Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Row over anti-fascist clashes during protests in Bolton

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EDL and UAF protesters clash with police in Bolton

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) leaders have disputed claims from police that their supporters were "extremely violent" during protests in Bolton.

Thousands of demonstrators from UAF and the English Defence League (EDL) gathered in Victoria Square to air their political views on Saturday.

Greater Manchester Police, which made 74 arrests, said many UAF had the "sole intention of committing disorder".

However UAF said officers "flew at them" in "unprovoked attacks".

Ugly scenes broke out between UAF supporters and police officers early on into the protests.

Arrests were made before the majority of EDL supporters had arrived at the square.

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

The actions of some of the protesters is roundly condemned by GMP and by Bolton Council
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan

Members of UAF and police were injured, with two UAF supporters being taken to hospital with head injures and one police officer suffering a fractured finger.

UAF's joint secretary Weyman Bennett, of Haringey, north London, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to organise violent disorder.

A member of the group's senior committee, Martin Smith, said he was also arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace but was released without charge on Saturday morning.

'Provoke a reaction'

Mr Smith said: "As soon as we arrived at the square we received hostility from police officers.

"We were certainly not the violent ones, we had come with the intention to protest peacefully against racism and fascism.

"However, the police stormed into our side of the square and started picking out UAF leaders and arresting them before anything had even happened.

"Those kind of actions are bound to provoke a reaction. They came flying into us - it was unbelievable.

Bolton protest, courtesy of Carl Silver
UAF members said the police stormed their side of the square

"The UAF feels we were not given the right to a peaceful protest."

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, from Greater Manchester Police (GMP), who led the policing operation, said his officers had suffered "unwarranted attacks", resulting in injuries.

He said the EDL had protested by flag-waving and "vitriolic name-calling" but he reserved his criticism for the anti-fascist group.

"We have seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation," the officer said.

"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 on to 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 actions of some of the protesters is roundly condemned by GMP and by Bolton Council."

An EDL spokesman said he felt the protests were "a resounding success" and said the group might return to Bolton in the near future due to the "massive support" they received.



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