Around 300,000 people turned out for a large pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday as police arrested scores of counter-protesters for attempting to confront the marchers.
There was heavy police presence in central London’s Hyde Park Corner as protesters chanted “free, free Palestine” and “ceasefire now.” They were also heard chanting the more controversial refrain “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
A spokesperson for London’s Metropolitan Police told CNN that an estimated total of 300,000 people attended the demonstration, which coincided with annual Armistice Day commemorations, Veterans Day in the US.
At least 126 people were arrested during the demonstration and counter-protests, according to the police. They said they had “faced aggression from counter-protesters” who stormed the area “in significant numbers” as the rally was building up. Police said earlier that they had arrested 82 counter-protesters in order “to prevent a breach of the peace.”
One pro-Palestinian protester told CNN she was “flabbergasted at the hypocrisy of those supporting Ukraine but not Palestine.”
“Some politicians may be on our side, but they are too afraid to speak out,” she added.
Another protester said the number of people who had turned out for the march was “inspiring.” “We need to speak out for the voiceless,” they added.
Far-right scuffle with police
The police had promised to use “all the powers and tactics available to us” to stop the counter-protesters confronting the pro-Palestinian march.
Earlier in the day, a CNN team on the ground heard shouts and observed a heavy police presence as a group of far-right protesters tried to storm the war memorial which had been placed in an exclusion zone for protection.
Far-right organizer Tommy Robinson led a small but noisy demonstration to try and reach the Cenotaph, a symbolic landmark which is located in Whitehall, the London district where the prime minister and government departments reside.
The English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right group founded by Robinson who, according to Robinson’s account on X, was at the Cenotaph to pay his respects on Saturday.
During the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the United Kingdom has traditionally observed a two-minute silence to commemorate the moment guns fell silent marking the end of World War I in 1918.
Video posted on the ground from the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate showed far-right protesters dressed in black pushing the police lines at various points around Whitehall.
In a statement issued later Saturday, police Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said officers intercepted a group of 150 people who were launching fireworks towards the end of the march. Arrests were made after some of the fireworks struck officers in the face, the statement read.
“The extreme violence from the right wing protestors towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning,” Twist also wrote.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also denounced the scenes in a statement posted to social media.
“I condemn the violent, wholly unacceptable scenes we have seen today from the EDL and associated groups and Hamas sympathisers attending the National March for Palestine. The despicable actions of a minority of people undermine those who have chosen to express their views peacefully,” Sunak said.
“All criminality must be met with the full and swift force of the law. That is what I told the Met Police Commissioner on Wednesday, that is what they are accountable for and that is what I expect,” Sunak continued, adding that he will be meeting the Met Police Commissioner in the coming days.
The unrest follows a political row over the pro-Palestinian protests earlier this week when Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman went off-script to accuse police of being too lenient on the demonstrators.
Sunak had initially attempted to stop the pro-Palestinian protest from going ahead.
While later accepting that the march would take place, Sunak stuck to his line that choosing to protest on this particular weekend is “not just disrespectful but offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the disorder seen at London’s Cenotaph on Saturday was a “direct result” of the words of Braverman.
“The scenes of disorder we witnessed by the far-right at the Cenotaph are a direct result of the Home Secretary’s words. The police’s job has been made much harder,” said Khan on social media, adding that London’s Metropolitan Police has his “full support to take action against anyone found spreading hate and breaking the law.”
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