LONDON, Nov 11 (Reuters) – More than 100,000 pro-Palestinian protesters marched through central London on Saturday, with more than 80 police arrests as protesters tried to prevent clashes between protesters and groups.
The pro-Palestinian march drew counter-protesters from far-right groups on Armistice Day, the anniversary of the First World War, which includes commemorations of Britain’s war dead.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said holding the rally on Armistice Day was disrespectful, and ministers called for the march to be canceled – the largest so far in a series of calls to show support for the Palestinians and a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Police said there were “significant numbers” of counter-protesters in central London, with clashes between them and police near the Cenotaph war memorial, Parliament and Westminster.
Some of the right-wing protesters threw bottles at officers, and police vehicles rushed around the city to respond to reports of tensions in the streets.
London’s Met Police later said it had arrested 82 counter-protesters in an operation designed to keep the peace as far-right groups tried to close in on a pro-Palestinian rally. 10 more have been arrested for other offences.
“We will continue to take steps to avoid any confusion that may arise if that happens,” the force said in a statement on social media.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Scotland’s First Minister Hamza Yousaf accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of emboldening the far-right after accusing the police of supporting “pro-Palestinian gangs”.
“The scenes of disorder we witnessed by the far-right at Cenotaph are a direct result of the Home Secretary’s words,” Khan said on social media.
Police said the pro-Palestinian rally had a “very large” turnout and no related incidents so far. They said they would not allow the two groups to meet.
“We will use all the powers and tactics at our disposal to prevent that from happening,” the police said.
As they gathered at the starting point, pro-Palestinian protesters could be heard chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a chant seen by many Jews as anti-Semitic and a call for Israel’s abolition.
Others carried banners reading “Free Palestine”, “Stop the carnage” and “Stop the bombing of Gaza” as they walked the route of the march, which ended at the US embassy.
Since the October 7 attack by Hamas in southern Israel, there has been strong support and sympathy for Israel from Western governments, including Britain, and many citizens. But the Israeli military response has also sparked anger, with weekly protests in London calling for a ceasefire.
In Paris, several thousand protesters, including some left-wing lawmakers, marched with pro-Palestinian banners and flags on Saturday afternoon to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Some French left-wing politicians have welcomed President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a ceasefire this week, as he opposed Israel’s bombing of Gaza in an interview with the BBC published late Friday.
A strike against anti-Semitism has been called by senior French parliamentarians on Sunday.
Reporting by Michael Holden, Hannah McKay, Hollie Adams, Ben Makori, Will Russell, Natalie Thomas, Alishia Abodunde, Yann Tessier and Dylan Martinez Editing by Sarah Young Editing by Ed Osmond and Helen Popper
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