Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Monday, 4 January 2010

Brown warns against 'offensive' Wootton Bassett parade

Hearses carrying the coffins of six dead soldiers
People in the town have lined the streets for the repatriation processions

The prime minster has issued a warning to a radical Islamist group planning a protest march through a Wiltshire town famous for honouring fallen soldiers.

Islam4UK, said to have extremist links, has written to bereaved families about plans to march through Wootton Bassett.

Gordon Brown said anything which families of dead or wounded troops could find offensive would be "completely inappropriate".

Anjem Choudary, of Islam4UK, said he chose the town to attract publicity.

The procession is not actually about the people of Wootton Bassett and it never was about them.
Anjem Choudary - Islam4UK

The town's mayor Steve Bucknell said his council would be vigorously opposing any march.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray echoed his call and said "Mr Choudary should go somewhere else".

Islam4UK, said to call itself a "platform" for the extremist movement al-Muhajiroun, has not yet applied for police permission or set a date for the event.

Its leader Mr Choudary wants to carry "symbolic empty coffins" through the town's high street, which is now famous as the place where people gather to pay tribute to troops killed in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the prime minister said: "We do not yet know what his [Anjem Choudary's] plans are.

"The only thing he seems to have said is that it is an idea he is considering.

"He would need to have the appropriate contact with the right people in Wootton Bassett to secure approval.

James Gray MP warns Islam4UK he will not allow the march to go ahead

"The prime minister's view would be obviously that anything that is considered to be offensive to, or of concern to, families of troops wounded or killed in Afghanistan would be completely inappropriate."

Mr Choudary, a former lawyer, has written a letter on the organisation's website entitled "To the families of British soldiers who have fallen", explaining reasons for the planned march.

He said the event, if permitted by police, would involve peaceful "symbolic coffins" being carried to honour Muslim victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.

'Media attention'

Mr Choudary said: "The procession is not actually about the people of Wootton Bassett and it never was about them.

"We are having a procession, it's in Wootton Bassett but it's not about the people there and it's not against them personally - rather it's to highlight the real cost of war in Afghanistan.

"The sad reality of the situation is that if I were to hold it somewhere else it would not have the media attention that it has now.

"If I am to balance between the sensitivity of having it in Wootton Bassett and the possibility of continuing the quagmire and cycle of death in Afghanistan, then quite honestly I'm going to balance in favour of the latter.

"In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be engaging with the local community and the public at large by way of press releases and letters to explain why we're having this march."


Conservative leader David Cameron, speaking on a visit to the West Country, said he thought the march idea was "completely unacceptable".

"Anjem Choudary is one of those people who needs to be looked at seriously in terms of the legality of what he's saying because he strays, I think, extremely close to the line of encouraging hatred, extremism and violence," he added.

James Gray told BBC News that it appeared that Mr Choudary was "getting his kicks from the publicity".

"The point about the repatriation ceremonies in Wootton Bassett High Street is that they are totally non-political.

"People aren't saying we are for the war or we're against the war. It is just about paying respect to those who have laid down their lives in the line of duty."

Mr Bucknell said Wootton Bassett, which has a population of just over 11,000, is entirely inappropriate for any march, protest or demonstration which refers to Afghanistan or Iraq.

"We are going to do our utmost to make sure that this march doesn't go ahead," he said, adding that the town's council have had received dozens of emails and phone calls from the public, concerned with the issue.

Islam4UK said its march would not coincide with a repatriation ceremony.

Print Sponsor

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