LONDON, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched through central London on Saturday after nearby clashes between far-right protesters and police, who launched a major operation to avoid clashes.
The pro-Palestinian march attracted counter-protesters from right-wing groups on Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, which includes commemorations of British war dead.
The “National March for Palestine” is the latest in a series to show support for the Palestinians and call for a ceasefire in the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.
The ministers had called for its cancellation because it coincided with Armistice Day.
Police said far-right groups opposing the march were present in central London “in large numbers”, leading to skirmishes with officers near the war memorial, near the Houses of Parliament and at Westminster.
Riot officers sought to contain right-wing protesters, some of whom threw bottles at them, and police cars raced around the city to respond to reports of tensions in the streets.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf blamed Home Secretary Suella Braverman for encouraging the far right after she accused police earlier in the week of favoring “pro-Palestinian mobs.”
“The scenes of chaos we witnessed by the far-right at the memorial are a direct result of the Home Minister’s words,” Khan said on social media.
Police said that the pro-Palestinian march witnessed a “very large” turnout and that no related incidents had occurred so far. They said they would not allow the two groups to meet.
“We will use all powers and tactics at our disposal to prevent this from happening,” police said.
Bin Jamal, an organizer from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told Reuters that up to a million people could join the march. He said it would be peaceful, but acknowledged “the escalating situation today.”
As they gathered at the starting point, pro-Palestinian demonstrators could be heard chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a rallying cry that many Jews consider anti-Semitic and a call for the elimination of Israel.
Others carried banners reading “Free Palestine,” “Stop the massacre,” and “Stop bombing Gaza.”
Police said nearly 2,000 officers would be on duty to prevent chaos, and an unprecedented 24-hour police guard has been deployed at the memorial since Thursday.
The pro-Palestinian march is scheduled to end at the US embassy.
“Here in London, just as we do around the world, the United States supports the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” an embassy spokeswoman said.
Since the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, there has been strong support and sympathy for Israel on the part of Western governments, including the British government, and many citizens. But the Israeli military response also sparked anger, with weekly protests taking place in London demanding a ceasefire.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who criticized the pro-Palestinian Armistice Day march as disrespectful, came under pressure from his MPs to sack Braverman after her comments about the police.
Reporting by Michael Holden, Hannah McKay, Holly Adams, Ben McCurry, Will Russell, Natalie Thomas, Alicia Abudondi, Yann Tessier and Dylan Martinez. Writing by Sarah Young, editing by Ed Osmond and Helen Popper.
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