Hundreds of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters and far-right activists rallied in London on Saturday despite calls from the government and the Police for them not to do so.
Dozens of far-right protesters clashed with riot police in Parliament Square and at barriers erected in nearby Whitehall.
“Thoroughly unacceptable thuggery,’’ Home Secretary, Priti Patel, tweeted in response to a video of the Whitehall skirmish.
“Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law,’’ Patel wrote.
“Go home to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives,’’ she urged the protesters.
Thousands of anti-racism protesters joined events across Britain on Friday, defying calls from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who claimed the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests had been “hijacked by extremists intent on violence’’.
“We will not be silenced,’’ a defiant Black Lives Matter London group posted on Facebook.
The Metropolitan Police designated separate zones in central London on Saturday for Black Lives Matter and the far-right groups’ counter-protest, ordering an end to all protests by 5.00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
“To anyone planning to join #BlackLivesMatter protests this weekend, for your safety please stay at home and find a safe way to make your voice heard,’’ London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, tweeted on Saturday.
“To the extreme far-right groups hijacking this crucial cause, Londoners have no time for your hatred.’’
The Police also warned that taking part in protests in London on Saturday would breach Britain’s coronavirus social distancing rules, which limit groups to a maximum of six people.
Metropolitan Police Commander, Bas Javid, said he understood “why people want to make their voices heard – there is a really strong depth of feeling out in the black communities’’.
“But the government direction is that we remain in a health pandemic and people are asked not to gather in large groups,’’ Javid said, urging people not to travel to London to protest.
Hundreds of thousands have joined largely peaceful protests over the last three weeks.
British media and politicians have highlighted attacks against police officers by some protesters.
A fierce public debate has also erupted over damage to statues of historical figures linked to British slave-trading and imperialism.
The Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance (DFLA), an umbrella group for far-right activists and football fans, has urged people to protect their heritage by guarding prominent statues in London and other cities.