Officers lauded for quelling danger of fresh race riot

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The Independent Online

Police were praised yesterday for avoiding a race riot in Stoke-on-Trent at the weekend.

Officers in riot gear were met by a hail of bricks, bottles and broken paving stones at the height of trouble on Saturday night in the Cobridge area of the city. A total of 49 people were arrested after the confrontation, which police said came when 100 Asian youths gathered in Waterloo Road after rumours of a British National Party (BNP) march in the area.

A representative of the Asian community said effective communication by officers with local people helped to prevent an outbreak of violence on the scale of recent riots in Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford.

Mohammed Pervez, chairman of the residents' association on the Grange estate, where the trouble flared, said: "There had been rumours going around that the BNP were marching towards the Cobridge area and there was a real fear of attack. Youths came out on to the streets because of that and the police responded."

Although it took time for officers to spread the message that there was no BNP activity, Mr Pervez said that "once the message had got across that the community was not facing possible attack from this group then people went home.

"I think overall the police action was exceptionally good. It was a measure of their performance that the situation did not escalate into something like Oldham or Bradford," he said.

His remarks follow weeks of criticism by Asian community leaders and others of the role poor policing has played in stoking racial violence. Officers have been accused of inaction in thehours leading up to outbreaks of violence.

Meanwhile, the BNP took its campaign against refugees and ethnic minorities into Scotland yesterday, prompting threats of counter demonstrations from anti-racist groups.

The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, said he would be touring Edinburgh, Stirling and other Scottish towns before delivering a speech in Glasgow later this week. Last night, anti-racist groups in Glasgow were meeting after leafleting by the BNP in areas with high ethnic- minority populations.

The BNP may attempt to campaign in the Pollokshields and Shawlands areas of Glasgow, which have large Asian populations. Mr Griffin said: "My knowledge of Scotland is fairly shaky, so I'll go wherever our local organisers drive me."

Mark Brown, organiser of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, said anti-racists would stage a counter demonstration if the BNP attempted to meet. Mohammed Asif, a spokesman for the refugees in Sighthill, said racial attacks had decreased in recent months. "Things have been getting better. We don't need this man coming in, causing trouble," he said.

Assistant Chief Constable Colin McKerrachar of Strathclyde Police said the force had received no confirmation of a BNP meeting in its area, but any activity would "be given an appropriate police response".