BNP festival 'rallying point for neo-Nazis'

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The Independent Online

The first day of a controversial BNP festival was today greeted by an open letter condemning the event from anti-fascist groups, union leaders and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

The letter, put together by campaign group Unite Against Fascism, said the Red, White and Blue Festival in Derbyshire would be a "rallying point for neo-Nazis and racists from across Europe".

The three-day festival is taking place in Codnor until Sunday.

Last year's event sparked violent scenes from anti-BNP protesters, with around 30 arrested.

A high-profile policing operation has been put in place by Derbyshire Police for this year's rally amid fears of more clashes.

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) plans to "kettle" the rally tomorrow, with supporters coming from across the country to take part in an organised march.

Today UAF published an open letter on its website condemning the event.

Signatories include former London mayor Ken Livingstone, children's author Michael Rosen, trade union leaders and the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

The letter said the BNP's claims that the event is a "patriotic family festival" were untrue and claimed last year's guests included a Czech neo-Nazi and a Swedish fascist.

It said: "The purpose of the BNP's event is to build up a hardened neo-Nazi core at the centre of the organisation.

"We are already witnessing a spate of racist attacks in areas of high BNP activity.

"The BNP's 'Red, White & Blue' will only encourage more bigotry and violence on our streets.

"We condemn the BNP and its festival of race hate, and we urge people to reject this party's poisonous and anti-democratic agenda."

Derbyshire Constabulary has organised a "significant policing operation" for the festival and has invoked the Public Order Act to impose a number of conditions on the protest, running from 9am today until 4pm on Sunday.

The conditions stipulate areas and times of protest as well as road closures.

Acting Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill said: "Our main aim for this weekend is that it passes off peacefully and any disruption is kept to a minimum.

"We are expecting a lot of people to come to this part of Derbyshire both to attend the Red, White and Blue event and also to protest against it.

"We are very mindful of the impact that such large numbers of people coming into a relatively small area can have on the local community and we have been working closely with Amber Valley Borough Council, residents and all the interested parties.

"The people attending Red, White and Blue have a right to do so in peace and safety but we also realise that people have the right to protest in a lawful and peaceful way. Local people also have the right to be able to go about their lives as normal."

The BNP earlier this week insisted it merely wanted to continue its annual event - now in its 10th year.

Deputy leader Simon Darby said: "It's not in our interests to cause trouble. We're up there with our wives, girlfriends and children.

"We just want to have a good time, but these protesters want to latch trouble on to us."