Page last updated at 10:02 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Inquiry into clashes at Bolton protest


EDL and UAF protesters clash with police in Bolton

Investigations are continuing after police and thousands of protesters clashed at a demonstration in Bolton.

Thousands of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and English Defence League (EDL) supporters gathered in Victoria Square on Saturday and dozens were arrested.

The EDL said it opposed "militant Islam" and Sharia law. The UAF accused the EDL of being a far-right party.

UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to organise violent disorder.

Officers came up to me as soon as I arrived and said they would arrest me
Weyman Bennett

At least 74 people were arrested, police said. A number of people were injured during the demonstrations.

Mr Bennett, from Haringey, north London, said he was grabbed by officers while protesting peacefully.

He said: "I have been to more than 200 demos and never been arrested. There is no evidence against me. This is not a good sign for democracy.

"Officers came up to me as soon as I arrived and said they would arrest me. They are hostile to anti-racists and there needs to be an investigation.

"Police neutrality needs to be questioned."

Protester arrested during EDL and UAF stand off in Bolton
At least 74 people were arrested during the protests, police said

Earlier, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said the number of arrests that were made was a clear indication that they had not been peaceful protests.

He said officers had faced a lot of hostility and would take swift action when confronted with disorder.

The force warned offenders would be identified from CCTV footage and brought to justice.

The protests started at about 1000 GMT. EDL protesters were later escorted away from Victoria Square by police and UAF supporters were told to disperse by about 1630 GMT.

Many shops and pubs closed in the area and most taxi firms pulled their drivers off the roads for fear of violence.

A notice on the EDL's website said its supporters would only protest peacefully, and UAF also described itself as a peaceful non-political group.

The two factions were separated by barriers on the steps of the town hall, which was boarded up.

The leader of Bolton Council, the Bishop of Bolton, and representatives from the Council of Mosques Hindu Forum wrote to Alan Johnson earlier this week asking for him to ban the demonstration, but were told it was not in his power to stop a protest.

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