Black Lives Matter demonstrators rally around Britain, with scuffles breaking out in London as far-right demonstrators gather to protect monuments targeted for their links to colonial history.
Anti-racism protesters rallied again around Britain on Saturday, with scuffles breaking out in London as far-right demonstrators also came out to protect monuments targeted for their links to colonial history.
Statues of historical figures including Winston Churchill – Britain's World War Two leader whom protesters call a xenophobe – were boarded up to try and minimise trouble.
In Trafalgar Square, police separated two groups of about 100 people each, one chanting "Black Lives Matter", the other racial slurs.
Some groups jostled, tossed bottles and cans, and set off fireworks, as riot police with dogs and horses lined up.
Police said that some people were bringing weapons to the London rallies. They imposed route restrictions on both groups and said rallies must end by 5 pm (1600 GMT).
"Anyone who thinks they can commit a crime or vandalise property will be arrested," Commander Bas Javid said in a statement.
The thousands of people defying coronavirus restrictions required a "major" policing operation the Metropolitan Police Service said, adding that they had encountered "pockets of violence directed towards our officers".
Television footage showed some agitators throwing punches, bottles and smoke bombs at officers as well as scuffling with rival protesters.
Police in London said they had arrested more than 100 peopled by 2000 GMT for violent disorder, assault on officers and possession of an offensive weapon. Six officers suffered minor injuries.
Black Lives Matter protesters have largely stayed at home, TRT World's Mehmet Solmaz said, adding "Organisers have called on anti-racism protesters to avoid clashes with far-right groups in London.'
Things already escalating here on Parliament Square. Bottles and smoke bombs thrown at police. And you can see as a protestor smacks my phone out of my hand as I try to film the scuffles.— Matthew Thompson (@mattuthompson) June 13, 2020
Turning on journalists too. @LBC @LBCNews pic.twitter.com/XgsoLfJExe
'Churchill was a racist'
In and around Parliament Square, hundreds of people wearing football shirts, chanting "England, England", and describing themselves as patriots, gathered alongside military veterans to guard the Cenotaph war memorial.
The group sang songs in support of right-wing activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the name of Tommy Robinson.
"Winston Churchill, he's one of our own," they also chanted, near his statue which last weekend was sprayed with graffiti reading: "Churchill was a racist".
"My culture is under attack. This is my culture and my English history: why should Churchill be boarded up? Why is the Cenotaph attacked? It is not right," said David Allen, one of the protesters.
Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, said activists have turned out to "guard our monuments."
"I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments," Golding told the Press Association.
'To be black is not a crime'
About two miles away, around 20 anti-racism protesters gathered at Hyde Park, holding Black Lives Matter placards, even though organisers had told them not to attend fearing clashes.
Hundreds also attended rallies in other English cities, many donning masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"To Be Black Is Not A Crime," read one placard at a rally in Reading.
Violence against police this afternoon at Parliament square. pic.twitter.com/e9HZJHzbAK— Vinnie O'Dowd (@VinnieoDowd) June 13, 2020
Debate over imperialist past
Demonstrations have been taking place around the world over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Britain, debate is raging over monuments to those involved in the nation's 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, Churchill's statue was daubed with the words "was a racist."
"We have intelligence that extreme far right groups are coming to London ostensibly, they say, to protect the statues, but we think the statues may be a flashpoint for violence," London's mayor Sadiq Khan said on BBC Radio.
Police imposed strict restrictions in a bid to avoid violent clashes. Authorities also fenced off other statues in Parliament Square, including memorials to Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
Statue of Churchill at risk
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday it was "absurd and shameful" that the statue of Churchill was at risk.
"Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial," Johnson wrote.
And Churchill's granddaughter Emma Soames told the BBC on Saturday that she was saddened.
"It is above all extraordinarily sad that my grandfather who was such a unifying figure in this country appears to have become a sort of icon to being controversial," she said.