Far-right protesters throw missiles at police as dozens arrested at pro-Palestine march counter rallies

Crowds of men were chanting and climbing on bollards with pockets of disorder breaking out near Cenotaph before silence fell at 11am

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Saturday 11 November 2023 21:41 GMT
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Far-right protesters clash with police as pro-Palestine march moves through London

Far-right activists launched missiles in a series of violent clashes with police after vowing to “defend” the Cenotaph as hundreds of thousands joined a pro-Palestine protest on Armistice Day.

The Metropolitan Police condemned the “unacceptable violence” faced by its officers as more than 90 counter-protesters were detained in mass arrests to prevent a breach of the peace after they attempted to target the rally.

Nationalist groups and football fans engaged in a series of violent confrontations across the capital, throwing beer cans and vapes and charging at officers, although the two minutes’ silence passed undisturbed at the Cenotaph.

In an extraordinary day of events:

  • An estimated 2,000 right-wing supporters gathered on Whitehall before 11am after group leaders including English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson issued calls to protect the Cenotaph
  • Police arrested 82 counter-protesters for alleged breach of the peace as they tried to reach the main pro-Palestine march route at midday
  • Ten more arrests were made for other offences, including affray and possession of a weapon
  • Groups “intent on confronting officers” threw a metal barrier at police as they attempted to storm the Cenotaph in escalating violence shortly before 4pm
  • Police said they were investigating reports of antisemitic chants on the pro-Palestine march and looking for two people who appeared to be wearing Hamas headbands
  • A break away group of 150 pro-Palestinians were detained by police in the evening on suspicion of using fireworks
  • Nine officers were injured preventing a violent crowd from storming the Cenotaph, with two requiring hospital treatment for a fractured elbow and a suspected dislocated hip, the Met Police said.

Met assistant commissioner Matt Twist said counter-demonstrators had arrived in the capital this morning and “seemed intent on confrontation and intent on violence”.

“There are a number of groups within this counter-protest who are split off and seem intent on seeking confrontation with the main Palestinian march, and the policing operation at the moment is being effective in preventing that happening,” he said.

Counter-protesters clash with police in Parliament Square, central London, during the pro-Palestinian march

He added that police had so far experienced “no issues” from an estimated 300,000 people attending the pro-Palestine march from Hyde Park to the US embassy on Saturday.

Later, police said they were “actively looking” for a woman pictured holding a “blatantly antisemitic” sign in pictures posted on social media, as well as investgating antisemitic chants in footage shared on X, formerly Twitter.

The force condemned violence faced by officers as they attempted to prevent disruption to a Remembrance event at the Cenotaph later in the afternoon.

Police said a number of counter-protest groups seemed ‘intent on seeking confrontation with the main Palestinian march’

A spokesperson added: “They have faced unacceptable violence, including people throwing missiles and a metal barrier. Those using violence made no effort to use the pavement, which is open along the full length of Whitehall on one side, in order to watch the event taking place. They were solely intent on confronting officers.”

Officers detained 82 counter-protesters near a pub along the pro-Palestine march route to prevent a breach of the peace.

Earlier, a man was arrested on suspicion of possessing a knife after riot police confronted angry counter-protesters in Chinatown. Extra units were deployed to the area after groups determined to reach the Cenotaph left Whitehall. Footage showed masked men, some wearing St George’s flags, clashing with officers in riot gear.

A total of 126 people had been arrested across the day, the Met Police said.

Elsewhere, hundreds of football supporters chanting “West Ham til I die” clashed with police by the Houses of Parliament in Westminster shortly after midday.

The two minutes’ silence was marked respectfully and without incident before officers ‘faced aggression in significant numbers’

Around 50 Met officers wearing riot helmets and protective gloves held riot batons as they formed two lines of defence to prevent the crowd from heading south across Westminster Bridge.

The crowd of men surged forward on two occasions, trying to break through the police lines, but were held back. As they pushed together, they threw beer cans and vapes, while waving red smoke flares.

Cries of “I’m English til I die” could be heard as some hurled abuse at police saying: “You’re scum, you’re letting our country down.”

Nine officers were injured preventing a violent crowd from storming the Cenotaph, with two requiring hospital treatment for a fractured elbow and a suspected dislocated hip, the Met confirmed on Saturday night in a statement.

Officers also confiscated weapons including a knife, a baton and a knuckle duster from groups of football hooligans.

Far-right groups clash with police and throw projectiles during clashes in Westminster

In a statement on Saturday night, Met assistant commissioner Matt Twist said: “The extreme violence from the right wing protestors towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning.

“They arrived early, stating they were there to protect monuments, but some were already intoxicated, aggressive and clearly looking for confrontation.

“Abuse was directed at officers protecting the Cenotaph, including chants of “you’re not English any more”.”

Police are reviewing footage of the clash to identify and arrest those involved the disorder. Two have been arrested so far – one on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, and a second on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance.

Scuffles in London’s Chinatown as counter-protesters moved away from Whitehall to other parts of central London

Up to 2,000 counter-protesters scuffled with officers on Whitehall just before the two minutes’ silence passed undisturbed. Footage showed crowds forcing their way past police and climbing on bollards on Saturday morning as they were penned in near Horse Guards Parade.

Crowds were seen chanting and climbing on bollards with pockets of disorder breaking out. However, silence fell at 11am.

A Met Police spokesperson said: “While the two minutes’ silence was marked respectfully and without incident on Whitehall, officers have faced aggression from counter-protesters who are in the area in significant numbers.

Far-right protesters clash with police as pro-Palestine march moves through London

“The counter-protesters are not one cohesive group. There are different groups moving away from Whitehall towards other parts of central London.”

Tommy Robinson was among the crowds gathered on Whitehall and was later seen leading counter-protesters through Chinatown before leaving in a taxi.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson was seen in Chinatown after earlier issuing calls to protect the Cenotaph

The Met used its powers to ban pro-Palestinian marchers from the “Remembrance footprint” in Whitehall but had said counter-protesters including far-right groups would be allowed in the exclusion zone because they would “not cause serious disorder by themselves”.

The troubling scenes came after anti-fascist campaign groups warned that far-right supporters and football hooligans could pose a “real danger” over Remembrance weekend.

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told The Independent on Friday: “Even in small numbers they could cause a big problem. They will be meeting in pubs and will be drinking beforehand. There is a real danger from these groups tomorrow.”

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