Violence erupts at far-right march in Birmingham

LONDON Sat Sep 5, 2009 10:55pm BST

1 of 6. Women fight as a demonstration by the English Defence League clashes with anti-racist groups in Birmingham, central England September 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Staples

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LONDON (Reuters) - More than 30 people were arrested in Birmingham city centre on Saturday after fighting broke out between far-right protesters and groups of youths, police said.

A little-known nationalist group calling itself the English Defence League met in the town centre to protest against what they see as Islamic militancy in Britain.

The demonstration led to angry clashes between the protesters and groups of youths who hurled bottles at each other and bricks at police.

West Midlands Police were prepared for the trouble, which they said involved little more than 200 people in all. The force employed additional officers from three other regions.

They said violence flared by mid-afternoon in the New street area of the city, close to the main train station.

Detective Chief Inspector Sue Southern for West Midlands Police said during the course of the day more than 30 men were arrested in the town centre after sporadic incidents of disorder.

In addition, she said a significant number of people had been arrested on buses that left the Bennetts Hill area of the city.

"Officers acted quickly and robustly to quell pockets of disorder caused by several groups of 20 to 30 men," Southern said.

"Shoppers in and around the Bullring shopping centre were unaffected by the disorder, with retailers reporting no effect on trade," she added.

Riot police have been deployed across the city to deal with any further outbreaks of disorder, West Midlands police said in a statement.

On its website, the English Defence League had urged its supporters to avoid violent clashes after a similar march it organised last month in Birmingham city centre was also marred by fighting and arrests.

Under a banner on its website which reads: "Peacefully Protesting Against Militant Islam," the group says it is not a fascist organisation. It also says it has no affiliation with any other far right groups including the British National Party.

But a website contact for the group, Trevor Kelway, lists friends on Facebook who are BNP supporters and others who use swastikas as their facebook identity pictures.

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