Clashes erupted in central London on Saturday afternoon between police and right-wing protesters claiming to “protect” monuments of acts of vandalism by anti-racism activists.
Thousands of protesters, including far-right activists, defied assembly bans linked to the new coronavirus pandemic to find themselves near Parliament where the statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill was demolished on the sidelines demonstrations against racism last weekend.
Bottles of water and cans were thrown against the police while some protesters chanted “England”.
Retweeting a video of protesters taking on the police in London, Interior Minister Priti Patel denounced “utterly unacceptable violence”.
She called on them to go home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus and “save lives”, when the COVID-19 disease has already killed more than 41,000 people in the country.
“It is clear that far-right groups are causing violence and excitement in central London,” twisted London Labor Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling for “to stay away” from the protests.
Although the Black Lives Matter movement canceled a demonstration scheduled for Saturday afternoon in the center of the capital, several hundred anti-racist activists gathered in Hyde Park before heading to the city center. British police urged them to disperse at 4:00 p.m. GMT to avoid the risk of clashes with far-right activists.
The anti-racism association “Hope Not Hate” had warned that several groups of football club supporters were planning to participate, as well as members of far-right movements such as Britain First.
“Absurd and shameful”
These counter-protesters have come to “stand guard around our monuments,” PA Golding, head of Britain First, told PA news agency. “I’m really fed up with the authorities allowing two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments,” with particular reference to the statue of Winston Churchill.
The inscription “was a racist” had been tagged with the name of the conservative leader, accused of having made racist remarks, in particular against the Indians.
“We are not racist. But we want to defend what London means for everyone […] and if (the statue) were to be removed, it would not be the same thing, “a protester, Victoria, told AFP.
Other statues symbolizing the country’s colonial past have been targeted in the country, including that of the slave trader Edward Colston who was debunked in Bristol. In London, the statues of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, near the parliament, were protected Friday and that of Winston Churchill was sheltered in a metal box.
Winston Churchill’s grandson and former Conservative minister, Nicholas Soames, condemned the “cowardly” acts of the perpetrators, but said it was “extremely repugnant” to the idea of far-right activists wanting to “stand guard” around the statue, he said on Saturday to the daily The Telegraph.
The Minister of the Interior has requested that the Churchill statue be made visible again. “We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation who fought fascism and racism in this country and in Europe,” she told Daily Mail Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that it was “absurd and shameful” that the monument was the target of attack and that “extremists” had “taken hostage” to anti-racism protests.
The remarks have drawn criticism from opposition MPs like the Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine who accused her of “fueling divisions and fear” among the population.
Other anti-racism rallies were held across the country on Saturday, such as Brighton on the south coast of England and Liverpool in the north.