LONDON (Agencies): Anti-racism protesters rallied again around Britain on Saturday, with scuffles breaking out in London as far-right demonstrators also came out to protect monuments targeted for their links to colonial history.
Statues of historical figures including Winston Churchill – Britain’s World War Two leader whom protesters call a xenophobe – were boarded up to try and minimise trouble.
In Trafalgar Square, police separated two groups of about 100 people each, one chanting “Black Lives Matter”, the other racial slurs.
Some groups jostled, tossed bottles and cans, and set off fireworks, as riot police with dogs and horses lined up.
Police said on Saturday that some people were bringing weapons to the London rallies. They imposed route restrictions on both groups and said rallies must end by 5 pm (1600 GMT).
“Anyone who thinks they can commit a crime or vandalise property will be arrested,” Commander Bas Javid said in a statement.
In and around Parlia-ment Square, hundreds of people wearing football shirts, chanting “England, England”, and describing themselves as patriots, gathered alongside military veterans to guard the Cenotaph war memorial.
The group sang songs in support of right-wing activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the name of Tommy Robinson.
“Winston Churchill, he’s one of our own,” they also chanted, near his statue which last weekend was sprayed with graffiti reading: “Churchill was a racist”.
“My culture is under attack. This is my culture and my English history: why should Churchill be boarded up? Why is the Cenotaph attacked? It is not right,” said David Allen, one of the protesters.
Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, said activists have turned out to “guard our monuments.”
“I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments,” Golding told the Press Association.
‘To be black is not a crime’
About two miles away, around 20 anti-racism protesters gathered at Hyde Park, holding Black Lives Matter placards, even tho-ugh organisers had told th-em not to attend fearing clashes. Hundreds also attended rallies in other English cities, many donning masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“To Be Black Is Not A Crime,” read one placard at a rally in Reading.
In London, Churchill’s statue was daubed with the words “was a racist.”
“We have intelligence that extreme far right groups are coming to London ostensibly, they say, to protect the statues, but we think the statues may be a flashpoint for violence,” London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said on BBC Radio.
Police imposed strict restrictions in a bid to avoid violent clashes. Authorities also fenced off other statues in Parliament Square, including memorials to Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.