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Dozens arrested during protests

10 October 09 19:14 GMT

More than 40 people have been arrested during two political demonstrations in Manchester city centre.

At least 2,000 people attended the protests, by the English Defence League (EDL) and members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) on Saturday afternoon.

Witnesses said "ugly scenes" broke out between rival protestors and police.

Forty-eight people have been arrested, four among them were held on suspicion of affray. Most of the other arrests were for public order offences.

'Nasty' atmosphere

Other people were detained on suspicion of racially-aggravated offences or over possession of weapons or drugs.

Protesters were herded towards railways stations by police officers as the protests came to an end. Many of them were moved away from the city centre on buses.

One man suffered a head injury during the protests, but did not need hospital treatment, a police spokeswoman confirmed.

About 700 members from the EDL and 1,400 members from UAF were separated by a line of riot police, dogs and mounted police in Piccadilly Gardens.

Mat Trewern, from BBC Radio Manchester, said the atmosphere had turned "quite nasty" as the day progressed.

He said: "There had been some ugly scenes as protesters clashed with police, but it has started to calm down and the crowds are dispersing.

"At one point, earlier on, when it became extremely tense, members of the UAF tried to break the police line between the two groups, which in turn angered the EDL members.

"Trouble had started when 100 members of the EDL arrived at Piccadilly Gardens and they were immediately met with shouts of 'racists' and 'off our streets' by members of the UAF, who had already congregated at Piccadilly."

He said the number of protesters from the UAF outnumbered those from the EDL by about two to one.

"The disruption in the city centre has been on a large scale, shoppers and businesses have been affected by the protests."

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said the presence of so many protesters in the city had "proved a challenge" but that life in the city had gone on as normal.

He said the police reaction had been necessary in order to tackle "the few hell-bent on violent confrontation" and described some of those arrested as "agitators and trouble-makers".

'Violent confrontation'

He said: "I would like to thank all those people who came to Manchester today and protested peacefully for their patience and understanding.

"I'd also like to commend the vast majority for demonstrating in a peaceful manner.

"However, the history of protest has been marred, by those who came intent on violent confrontation."

Greater Manchester Police confirmed a man, believed to be heading to the protest, had earlier been arrested in Birmingham on suspicion of distributing racially aggravated material.

Muslim leaders had renewed appeals for people to avoid the demonstrations.

Nanu Miah, a community leader from Oldham, said before the protests in Manchester: "We are not encouraging people to go, we don't know who EDL is and what could happen."

An EDL event in Birmingham in September led to counter-demonstrations and bricks being hurled at riot police. Up to 90 people were arrested.

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