Dozens of people were arrested in London on Saturday as rival far-right and anti-fascist groups faced off over the murder of a British soldier by suspected Islamists.
London’s Metropolitan Police said 58 people from the Unite Against Fascism pressure group were arrested after they gathered to oppose a rally by the far-right British National Party (BNP) near the Houses of Parliament.
The arrested UAF protesters, who were part of a group of around 300 people opposing the 150-strong BNP rally, were detained on suspicion of breaching the Public Order Act, Scotland Yard added.
The rallies came as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, one of two prime suspects in the killing, was held for questioning for a second day following his release from hospital.
He and the other prime suspect, 22-year-old Michael Adebowale, were shot and injured by police at the murder scene, shortly after 25-year-old soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight near his barracks in Woolwich, southeast London.
Adebowale has been charged with murder and possessing a revolver.
Both suspects are Londoners who converted to Islam after growing up in Nigerian Christian families.
Rigby’s family had issued an appeal for calm following a number of attacks on mosques and a rise in anti-Muslim incidents since his murder, the first fatal Islamist attack in Britain since the 2005 London bombings.
On Saturday, the rival BNP and anti-fascist protesters traded chants, held behind opposing metal barricades with police separating them.
The BNP had hoped to march in Woolwich but were banned from doing so by the police, fearing public disorder.
Many of their protesters carried the British flag and some had signs saying “Hate preachers out”.
“Britain is a tinderbox waiting to explode,” BNP leader Nick Griffin told AFP.
“We are here — I hope — starting a debate to point out the only way out, or the best way to get peace, is to disengage so there’s a peace treaty between the West and Islam.
“We leave their lands — we stop attacking them, we stop bombing their wedding parties — and in turn, they leave ours. Then we can have peace.”
He added: “We absolutely agree with what Lee Rigby’s family said that nobody should use his death as an excuse or a reason to attack anybody else.”
UAF demonstrators held up banners reading “Say no to Islamophobia”.
“They’re trying to take advantage of the very sad murder of a young soldier,” UAF chair Steve Hart told AFP.
“We don’t allow the BNP on the streets without opposition.
“In this city, London, the vast majority of the population supports multiculturalism. We’re a multicultural city. We like it, we love it, it’s the way we want to live.”
Meanwhile, two men arrested on suspicion of being involved in supplying illegal firearms in connection with the murder were released on bail Saturday.
The two unnamed men, aged 46 and 42, were arrested on Friday. They have been bailed to return to a south London police station in late June, pending further enquiries.
Twelve people have been arrested as part of the probe by Scotland Yard’s counter-terror branch.
Two women were released without charge and six men accused of conspiracy to murder are out on bail.