London’s Metropolitan Police said that physical violence by far-right thugs and football hooligans on the city’s streets Saturday was more dangerous than the far-larger pro-Palestinian demonstration that was largely peaceful.
An estimated 300,000 people took to London’s streets on Saturday — as protesters did across other major European cities such as Paris and Brussels — to call for a cease-fire in Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza. The London march was between Hyde Park and the U.S. Embassy.
The London police condemned “extreme violence from right-wing protesters” who it said set out to confront Saturday’s pro-Palestinian march. Nine officers were injured and 126 people were arrested, the “vast majority” of whom were counter-protesters, the police said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak blamed the violence on far-right “thugs” and “Hamas sympathizers” who had gtried to infiltrate the march.
Following the rally, Matt Twist, an assistant commissioner with the London Metropolitan Police, said that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) event “did not see the sort of physical violence carried out by the right wing” on Saturday, which had looked to clash with the PSC and stop the rally.
“This group were largely football hooligans from across the U.K. and spent most of the day attacking or threatening officers who were seeking to prevent them being able to confront the main march,” Twist said in a statement late Saturday. In searchers of the group members, the police found “a knife, a baton and knuckleduster … as well as class A drugs,” he said.
Ahead of the weekend, U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman had described pro-Palestinian events as “hate marches.”
Twist said some breakaway groups from the pro-Palestinian rally behaved in an “intimidating manner” with arrests made after officers were struck in the face with fireworks, but there was no comparable level of violence to the football hooligans.
“There were also a number of serious offenses identified in relation to hate crime and possible support for proscribed organizations during the protest that we are actively investigating,” said Twist.
Violent and intimidating protests were “deplorable,” Sunak said. “That is true for [far-right English Defence League] thugs attacking police officers and trespassing on the Cenotaph, and it is true for those singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing on today’s protest,” he said.