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BRUM ANTI-FASCIST DEMO "RARE OCCURRENCE" SAY POLICE

10-08-2009

35 arrests have now been made in connection with Saturday evening’s disturbances in Birmingham city centre following yesterdays rival demonstrations between members of the far right English and Welsh Defence League (EWDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

According to West Midlands Police, who deployed a highly visible force estimated at around 200 officers (many in riot gear) in an attempt to maintain order, the majority of arrests were for disorder and that the figure may increase as investigations into the incidents continue.

Chief Inspector Mark Payne, spokesperson for West Midlands Police, said that the force would be studying photographs and video images and would arrest and prosecute anyone found to be engaging in acts of criminality.

Chief Inspector Payne added: “The events of Saturday are a very rare occurrence and normal city centre life resumed within a short space of time. I want to reassure all members of the community that the city centre is, and will continue to be, a safe place to live, shop and visit.”

Although Unite Against Fascism worked closely with the police on all aspects of their protest, held at Rotunda Square in front of the Bull Ring, Councillor Salma Yaquob (Respect, Balsall Heath) expressed concern at what she believed to be a lack of communication by the police with the UAF on the day. “Rumours were spreading of groups of EWDL supporters moving towards us and when the police lines suddenly moved back there was concern that we were about to be attacked.” Yaqoub also felt that the police underestimated the EWDL’s true agenda. “I met with during the week and they were insisting that the group were not racist (a claim made by the group itself but widely dismissed).”

Her views were echoed by Sadia Jabeen, Regional Organiser for Unite Against Fascism. “The EWDL’s first Birmingham demonstration on July 4th included openly racist and inflammatory language so there was no doubting their agenda. That alone gave the police sufficient grounds to refuse them permission to demonstrate on Saturday.”

West Midlands Police, perhaps sensitive to accusations of bias and keen to play down the race angle, felt that such a line had not yet been crossed by the EDWL, as Chief Inspector Payne indicated on Sunday: “It is important to be aware that West Midlands Police have no powers to ban or stop peaceful protests and would not seek to do so, however if criminal acts or racially aggravated incidents are reported, then police will arrest and prosecute anyone found to be responsible.

During last week’s discussions the police assured UAF organisers that the EDWL would be permitted a static protest and would not be allowed near the UAF rally. However, several attempts were made by EDWL sympathisers to attack or intimidate the UAE protest, most notably when a pocket numbering around 20 charged at the group from near the junction of Union Street and High Street sometime after 6pm. It is thought these might have comprised members of a secondary group of right-wingers who avoided the Victoria Square demonstration altogether, though in the fog of uncertainty which often surrounds such incidents, this cannot be confirmed.

Although Sadia Jabeen believes police were dispersing groups of black and Asian youths long before the demonstrations got underway, and later boarded buses heading to Alum Rock, questioning Asian youths on board, she insists that if the EDWL return, as has been mooted, UAF will again staged a counter-rally: “We’d definately stage another peaceful protest, but I’d like to hear more from our MPs and Councillors beforehand, they could have applied pressure to get the English Defence League’s rally stopped but failed to do so.” .

Mindful of stories that the EWDL are planning a return to Birmingham later this month, West Midlands Police yesterday stated that they: “...will also look at applying for injunctions to prevent people travelling to the West Midlands who are intent on causing trouble.”

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