Far-right and anti-racism protesters rallied in London, despite strict police restrictions and warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.
Demonstrations have been taking place around the world and in parts of the United Kingdom over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis last monht after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In the UK, a debate is raging over monuments to those involved in its imperialist past, especially after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the harbour of Bristol port last weekend. In London, a statue of Winston Churchill was daubed with the words “was a racist”.
In and around Parliament Square on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people wearing football shirts, chanting “England, England”, and describing themselves as patriots, gathered alongside military veterans to guard the Cenotaph war memorial.
“Winston Churchill, he’s one of our own,” they chanted, near his statue.
A few kilometres away, anti-racism protesters gathered at Hyde Park, holding Black Lives Matter placards, even though organisers had told them not to attend, fearing clashes.
Police separated two groups of about 100 people each in Trafalgar Square, one chanting “Black Lives Matter”, and the other racial slurs. Some groups jostled, tossed bottles and cans and set off fireworks, as riot police lined up.
“Clashes erupted between the police and the right-wing protesters who have come out as advertised to protect the national monuments in Parliament Square, in the words of the leader of the group Britain First, one of the organisers,” a Analyst said.
“In Trafalgar Square in central London, a group of rival Black Lives Matter protesters are being protected by the police,” Analyst added.
Hundreds of people also attended rallies in northern English cities like Liverpool and Newcastle, with many protesters donning masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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 5pm (16:00 GMT) in a bid to avoid violent clashes.
“Anyone who thinks they can commit a crime or vandalise property will be arrested,” Commander Bas Javid said in a statement.