Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Thousands welcome protest troops

Troops in Watford
Troops parade through Watford to mark their return from Iraq

Soldiers who were subjected to abuse by protesters after returning from duty in Iraq have marched in Hertfordshire.

Thousands of supporters turned out in Watford for the parade to mark the soldiers' return.

The 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment faced protests from Muslim protesters in Luton, Beds, on Tuesday.

People greeting the soldiers turned on the protesters and one Army spokesman said the battalion had been "deeply touched" by this support.

Support 'overwhelming'

Private Edward West, 19, from Watford, said the protests had not affected him or his colleagues.

He said: "When we marched past them we saw them but the police had it under control so we weren't worried. The support there overwhelmed them.

"We heard them for a few seconds but then all the supporters just began cheering us so it didn't affect us because they were such a small minority."

The troops marched along the High Street before being inspected by Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill.

She said the troops could walk through the town with "their heads held high".

It was the first time in 10 years that the regiment had paraded through Watford.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the protesters in Luton and said: "The whole country is proud of our brave servicemen and women who serve their country with great distinction and courage."

Thousands turned out to welcome the troops in Watford

The protesters, who were hemmed in by police as the parade marched past, waved placards with slogans including: "Anglian Soldiers: Butchers of Basra" and "Anglian Soldiers: cowards, killers, extremists".

One also read: "British Government Terrorist Government".

Their protests were also condemned by Defence Secretary John Hutton and his Conservative shadow Dr Liam Fox.

Mr Hutton said: "I want to pay tribute to the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment who have served their country with great bravery and professionalism.

"I can only condemn the tiny minority who used this opportunity to make, whatever their personal views, utterly ridiculous and insulting comments."

Dr Fox added: "This is offensive, appalling and disgraceful.

"It is only because of the sacrifices made by our armed forces that these people live in a free society where they are able to make their sordid protests."

The Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement it was appalled at reports of the abuse, adding that the actions of the protesters provided "fodder for Islamophobes keen to drive a wedge between Britons".

Secretary General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari said British soldiers were "simply carrying out orders on behalf of the government of the day".

"They have endured and sacrificed much and we are glad they are back home," he said.

Bedfordshire Police said an 18-year-old man from Luton had been charged with racially aggravated harassment in connection with clashes during the parade and will appear before Luton Magistrates' Court next week.

A second man, aged in his 40s, was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice.

The Battalion recruits from Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

Gordon Brown also commented on the protest

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