TIMESONLINE… Riot police battled to control thousands of rival demonstrators taking part in an ill-tempered city centre protest organised by a controversial right-wing group.
Hundreds of officers, some horse-mounted and armed with batons, separated supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) and members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
Two officers were injured following ugly clashes: one fractured a finger, the other was bitten by a police dog. A police helicopter was also dispatched to assist the officers on the ground. There was a total of 67 arrests, 55 of which were UAF supporters and the remaining 12 EDL, police said.
The EDL organised the rally in Bolton, Lancashire, to protest against “radical Muslims” and Sharia law. At its height there were some 2,000 EDL and a further 1,500 UAF protestors.
The main protest took place in front of the town hall, which was boarded up to prevent any damage. Many local pubs and shops closed and taxi firms pulled their drivers off the roads.
Council leaders had met with Home Secretary Alan Johnson earlier this week in a bid to ban the demonstration, but were told there was no power to do so unless it took place on private property.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who is leading the operation for Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “Today in Bolton we have seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation.
“It is clear to me that a large number have attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable. Turning their anger onto police officers they acted with, at times, extreme violence and their actions led to injuries to police officers, protesters and members of the public.
“The police are not and should not be the target of such violence and anger and this protest and the actions of some of the protesters is roundly condemned by GMP and by Bolton Council.
“Were it not for the professionalism and bravery of police officers many others would have been seriously injured.”
By late afternoon protestors from both groups had been led away from the main town square. Officers frogmarched EDL demonstrators back towards the railway and bus stations, while they continued to chant: “We want our country back.”
UAF members left, chanting: “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Police will now review CCTV of the incident to identify people involved in inciting or committing disorder.
EDL protester Stuart Rogers, 31, from Bolton, draped in the English flag, said he was there “to support England, against the Taliban bombers”, adding: “All my family are in the Army – my dad, and my brother, who has just done 11 months in Afghanistan. Why are our troops out there when they should be at home?”
Among those arrested were UAF joint secretary Weymann Bennett, who organised the protest, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder, and Martin Smith, who runs the Love Music Hate Racism campaign.
Second World War veteran Bertie Lois, 89, who protested with the UAF, said: “I fought the Second World War against these Nazis. What did I fight for if we let them? The EDL are the enemy. I would say to them ’you are the guys we fought for, what are you doing?’”
Simon Marsden, 37, also supported the UAF. He said: “Something has got to be done about these fascists who come into our town where there is no problem on the streets.
“They have come in trying to cause conflict. There is no room for them in this day and age.”
Louis Kang-Mascarenhis, a 19-year-old student, added: “I was very surprised by the number of EDL. They need to educate themselves. They are trying to stir up hatred by coming into a town with a large Asian population.”
Two UAF demonstrators were taken to hospital, one with a minor head injury and the other with a minor ear injury, police said. A 19-year-old man received treatment for an ongoing health problem and a 16-year-old girl was treated after suffering a panic attack.
The EDL describes itself as a peaceful, non-political group campaigning against “militant Islam”, but a previous rally in Manchester last year turned violent, resulting in 44 arrests and 10 injuries.