Clashes broke out between protesters and police within metres of Downing Street yesterday as supporters of the British offshoot of a German anti-“Islamisation” group were met by hundreds of counter-demonstrators.
Pegida UK held their first ever London rally to “raise awareness of the detrimental affect radical Islam and slack border controls/mass immigration are having on our country”.
Much of Whitehall was shut down as protesters waving the Union Flag and St George's cross were outnumbered by anti-fascists and anarchists and the two groups were separated by a heavy police presence.
Warning: This video contains very strong language
They traded songs, chants and insults across a line of officers as ambulances and riot police stood by to intervene.
“Hitler was right,” a Pegida UK supporter was heard to shout, while anti-fascists called the group “Nazi scum” who should go and “kill themselves”.
Footage showed scuffles break out near the Cenotaph as lines of police tried to push back anarchist “black bloc" demonstrators.
Meanwhile, Pegida UK supporters hemmed in by officers waved flags to patriotic music and held placards including a sign picturing Winston Churchill with the slogan “no surrender to terrorists – not now, not ever”.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said two people were arrested during the event – one suspected of an unspecified fireworks offence and another for breach of the peace.
One member of Pegida UK claimed that about 200 people attended its rally and argued that photos seemed to show a far smaller number “because a lot of our supporters don't want to be on television”.
But Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which called the counter-demonstration joined by several anti-fascist and anarchist groups, claimed Pegida UK were “less than 100 strong”.
None of the numbers could be confirmed.
A spokesperson for the group claimed Pegida was “outnumbered and humiliated” by around 300 anti-fascists.
UAF's rally was joined by trade unionists and faith groups, a report on its Facebook page said.
“Pegida's racism was sickening and…they failed. We had messages of support from Newcastle Unites/UAF, German, Swedish and Scottish anti-fascists,” it continued.
“Our unity was our strength. Pegida UK have been exposed for the fascist friendly mob they are.”
The London Anti-Fascists, who also attended, said “usual faces” from the far right British National Party, National Front, English Defence League and “neo-Nazis” had been seen at a previous Pegida UK event.
“We’re an awareness campaign and we are patriots against the Islamification of the West and that means we value our British culture and values, and that’s how we want to live," an unidentified leader of Pegida UK told Russia Today at the scene.
"We don’t want an evil ideology to come in here and tell us how to live.”
“We’re not racist,” added another supporter.
A post following the protest on Pegida UK’s official Facebook page claimed war veterans and Gurkhas attended to give their support.
One of the speakers was Zahid Khan, a German author behind self-published books including The Criminal Acts of the Prophet Mohamed.
On his website, Mr Khan describes visions where he believes he encountered angels and God, who supposedly told him to travel to Germany on a “mission” to reveal His “secrets”.
Members of Pegida UK had planned to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, hear speeches and finish with a candlelit vigil “in memory of all those that have died at the hands of extremists”.
The event came after members were vastly outnumbered by thousands of counter-protesters in Newcastle in February, which saw five people arrested.
Earlier this year, Pegida UK told the BBC it was separate from Pegida in Germany, although Saturday’s event was advertised on the original group's official Facebook page.
The group, whose name stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamification of the West”, has drawn huge public criticism in Germany and counter-demonstrations tens of thousands of people strong as part of a huge public backlash.
Its rapid growth from weekly marches numbering the hundreds in October last year to tens of thousands in January sparked nationwide resistance, from Angela Merkel condemning “hatred in their hearts” to politicians dubbing its leaders “Nazis in pinstripes”.
Eyewitness report by Jamie Campbell
It appeared that both sides, Pegida and Unite Against Facism, were a little liberal in their estimations of their own numbers. In all there were probably just under a hundred Pegida members at the demonstration and a similar number of UAF members involved in the counter-protest.
The atmosphere was, at least for a time, fraught with dramatic tension as members of UAF continually chanting that Pegida members were ‘Nazi scum’ and that they should ‘kill themselves.’
At one point a Pegida member, pressing at a line of police separating the factions, shouted back: “Hitler was right.”
The most distressing scene was perhaps when one evidently drunk Pegida member clambered up onto a wall only to tumble off and knock a baby from its pram onto the pavement. Thankfully, the baby was ultimately okay, as was the man.
As it dragged on, the passion from both sides seems to ebb somewhat and the insults started turning into tired repetitions of “get a haircut” and “go to the pub” before it all appeared to break up peacefully.
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