EDL rally: Birmingham bar Risa is 'forced' to host protest to give profits to charity

Police want EDL protesters in one place to manage the event

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The Independent Online

A bar in Birmingham reluctantly hosting an English Defence League (EDL) rally at the police's request is giving all profits from the event to charity.

Bar Risa said it tried to refuse West Midlands Police because staff do not support the far-right group in “any way, shape or form” but the force said it would help them manage the demonstration.

Hundreds of EDL supporters are expected to gather in the city on Saturday for the protest, which will be met by counter-demonstrations by United Against Fascism (UAF) and other opposition groups.

Last year, 20 people were arrested on the day of the July EDL rally in Birmingham, when police and protesters were injured in a series of assaults and angry clashes between opposing groups.

An estimated 1,000 extra police officers were drafted in for the occasion and a similarly strong presence is expected on Saturday.

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police said it has been planning for weeks to minimise disruption to the city.

Many pubs in Birmingham are expected to close on the day but Bar Risa will be open to the EDL for two hours, with the group making their way to a designated rally point in Centenary Square at 1pm.

Stefan-Wermuth-EDL.jpg
An EDL supporter in Birmingham, July 2013.

Superintendent Rich Baker it had been a “difficult and reluctant decision” for Bar Risa to host the event for a second year running.

“West Midlands Police do not have any powers to stop any group drinking alcohol pre-protest so having one such venue makes absolute sense,” he added.

“We appreciate the support that Bar Risa is giving to this large-scale and complex policing operation and the contribution it is making to the wider city of Birmingham.”

Profits from the rally, which raised £1,500 last year, are again being donated to the Midlands Air Ambulance charity.

Sofia Voutianitis, the corporate fundraising manager, said the contribution will “go a long way to helping to save lives across the region.”

Community business groups and councillors also spoke out in support of Bar Risa.

Video: EDL rally in 2012

A spokesperson from the club, which has several rooms and can hold hundreds of people, said they “firmly said no” to police at first because they do not support the EDL.

“In addition, we know how much it upset some of the local community last year, and having helped the police last time, it seemed right that they ask someone else,” he added.

“The police stance however is that Risa is the only bar big enough and close enough to the centre of the protest to house the EDL as one group.

“Their view is that Risa would be doing the city of Birmingham, the community and the police a great service.

“As I’m sure you can understand, given the repeated police requests we had little option other than to help the police manage this situation.”

The EDL’s latest rally appears to be focusing on the “Trojan Horse” scandal that exposed an alleged plot to introduce aspects of Islamist teaching in Birmingham schools, exposing children to radical views.

A statement on the group’s official Facebook page said: “Many thanks to Bar Risa for hosting us again. Once again we will show them we are NOT hostile, nor are we the thugs the left/media try to portray us as.”

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