More than 70 people were arrested during clashes between right-wing and anti-fascist protesters which brought a town centre to a standstill.
Police condemned the violence in Bolton, Lancashire, yesterday which erupted between supporters of controversial right-wing group The English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
Thousands of people took part in a rally in Victoria Square, with at least two police officers and members of the public injured.
At least 74 arrests were made, more than 55 from the UAF and nine from the EDL, police said.
Officers said UAF protesters were responsible for most of the trouble – and the organisation’s joint secretary, Weyman Bennett, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to organise violent disorder.
Protesters from Unite Against Facism clash with the police during a a counter-demonstration against a rally by the English Defence League in Bolton town centre. He hit out at the policing, insisting he was grabbed by officers while protesting peacefully.
‘I have been to more than 200 demos and never been arrested,’ he said. ‘Officers came up to me as soon as I arrived and said they would arrest me. They are hostile to anti-racists and there needs to be an investigation. Police neutrality needs to be questioned.’
Of those arrested, at least 55 were from UAF and nine from the EDL, police said. Officers were attacked trying to keep the two groups apart.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, from Greater Manchester Police, who led the policing operation, said his officers faced ‘a lot of hostility’ and ‘unwarranted attacks’, resulting in injuries.
And he reserved his fiercest criticism for the anti-Fascist group, who he said had turned up intent on causing trouble.’Today in Bolton we have seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation,’ he said.
‘It is clear to me that a large number have attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable. ‘Turning their anger on to police officers, they acted with, at times, extreme violence and their actions led to injuries to police officers, protesters and members of the public.
‘The police are not and should not be the target of such violence and anger, and this protest and the actions of some of the protesters is roundly condemned by GMP and by Bolton Council.’
A UAF protester clashes with the police who try to hold back the crowd. A cordon of police battle to hold back the protesters as they surge forward towards the Right-wing marchers. The two factions were meant to stay within two designated areas in the square, separated by steel barriers.
But a large number of protesters ‘intent on causing disorder’ broke away from the protest site, police said. Two members of the public were injured by demonstrators and taken to a nearby shop for treatment, police said.
Riot police and mounted officers armed with batons struggled to keep the crowds in check in front of the town hall. Police dogs have been deployed in a bid to control the crowds and a police helicopter was also dispatched. Two UAF demonstrators have been taken to hospital, one with a minor head injury and the other with a minor ear injury, police said.
A 19-year-old man has received treatment for an ongoing health problem, another man has fractured a finger. A 16-year-old girl has been treated after suffering panic attack, police said. Most shops and pubs were closed in the area, and most taxi firms have pulled their drivers off the roads.
Second World War veteran Bertie Lois, 89, who lives in Farnworth, Bolton, protested with the UAF. He said: ‘I fought the Second World War against these Nazis. What did I fight for if we let them? The EDL are the enemy. I would say to them ‘you are the guys we fought for, what are you doing?’
‘I am also here because I am against the war in Afghanistan.’
A young member of The English Defence League flies a St George’s cross flag as helmeted police look on. Weyman Bennett, the UAF joint secretary who organised the protest, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder, police said. Anindya Bhattacharyya, UAF press officer, said: ‘A large group of riot police charged in, there were at least a dozen of them.
‘They grabbed him and physically dragged him away even though he was protesting peacefully.’ She said that Martin Smith, who runs the Love Music Hate Racism campaign, was also arrested.
Police said there were 2,000 EDL protesters in the square, and around 1,500 from UAF. The EDL describes itself as a peaceful, non-political group campaigning against ‘militant Islam’.
But ugly scenes also marked one of their protests in Manchester last year, with 44 arrests and 10 injuries.
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