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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 04:14 GMT 05:14 UK
Oldham rallies against extremists

There was a heavy police presence in the town
Hundreds of Anti-Nazi League supporters gathered in Oldham on Sunday in response to a threatened march by the National Front.

Police were out in force, but the march by the extremist far right group failed to materialise.

The rally passed without incident except for the arrest of two white youths, who were found carrying sellotaped rolls of one pence coins wrapped in white cloths bearing the name of fascist group Combat 18.

The Anti-Nazi League and local ethnic community have been dismayed by recent election support for the British National Party in a town where racial tension sparked rioting last month.

Solidarity: hundreds turned up
At the peak of the Anti-Nazi League rally on Sunday, up to 300 activists from as far afield as Yorkshire and Newcastle congregated outside Oldham Civic Centre.

Passing motorists were asked to sound their horns in support of the demonstration, which was addressed by trade unionists and councillors from the local Asian community.

Earlier, hundreds of police officers congregated in a car park next to Oldham Athletics Boundary Park Ground.

Some 30 vans, many fitted with riot shields and two trucks of police horses were assembled on the waste ground.

The National Front had threatened to march through the town just days after the British National Party achieved their best ever Parliamentary result - winning a combined total of more than 11,000 votes in two Oldham constituencies.

The party's election success, which dismayed members of the town's Asian communities, came less than two weeks after vicious racially-fuelled riots.

Race riots

Racial tension in the Greater Manchester town led to a weekend of race riots last month, the worst seen in Britain for 15 years.

Petrol bombs were thrown and cars set on fire in three nights of violence in the Glodwick area which led to 33 white people and 16 Asians being arrested.

Days later, the house of the town's Asian deputy mayor was petrol-bombed in an attack police said was racially motivated.

Oldham during the riots
Devastation: Oldham during the riots
Tensions increased on Friday after 10 Muslim gravestones, some belonging to children, were desecrated in a cemetery.

Police said the appalling vandalism, in the Greenacres area, was being treated as a racist attack and they are now conducting house-to-house inquiries.

Racial tension has been high in Oldham since reports that Asian youths, critical of the police response to attacks on their community, threatened to create "no-go zones" for white people.

The National Front has tried to stage several marches in the town, even though the police and the local council last month ordered a ban such activities.

Commentators have blamed some right-wing extremists for exploiting tensions between the town's whites and Asians - mainly Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi.

The Anti-Nazi League demonstration broke up shortly after 1600BST, but a heavier than usual police presence was expected to remain on the streets.

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