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Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 12:14 UK
EDL demo: the right to protest?

By Richard Turner
BBC Manchester

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Mounted police, dogs and officers act as a barrier between the groups of protesters

Freedom of speech is one of the most important principles of any democracy. But when does a lawful protest cross the line into inciting racial and religious hatred?

EDL protesters in Manchester
EDL denies being a racist organisation or being anti-Islamic

On Saturday 10 October, up to 500 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) gathered in Manchester for a controversial demonstration against Islamic fundamentalism.

Angry scenes followed as lines of police fought to prevent a confrontation with members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who occupied Piccadilly Gardens with a larger counter-protest.

In the end, however, there was no serious disorder or violence, with 48 arrests for public order and other offences.

Ban

The emergence of the EDL is worrying many people not least because it's very difficult to work out who they are.

EDL insists that it's a non-racist organisation which opposes not Muslims but radical Muslims and has black people among its members.

Mike, a black member of EDL, denied the group was racist

However, the sight of banners reading 'No More Mosques in England', hardly supports that view nor helps to advance city-wide efforts to build racial tolerance between communities.

What is clear is that many observers fear that EDL's stand against Islamic extremism is being used to breed religious and racial hatred.

Searchlight, which campaigns against far-right extremism, says that while EDL may not be an all-white group of hardcore fascists, its banners and chants are anti-Muslim and therefore incite hatred.

Manchester City Council and religious leaders in the city had written in vain to the Home Secretary asking for the event to be banned.

Both the Home Office and the police stated that they were powerless to prevent static protests in a public space.

Your comments

Of course the EDL have the right to protest. Muslims, it seems, are allowed to protest against our soldiers risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and protest how they want to take over our country with Sharia law, and shamelessly advocate converting ordinary citizens to Islam by force. Are you saying that isn't religious or racial hatred?

- Daniel, England

The UAF should not be allowed to counter protest its as simple as that. The only reason we had to spend so much on policing this operation is because the UAF follow the EDL as a means to silence them, preventing FREE SPEECH. They have consent to do this and they even got away with disrespectfully shouting obscenities while the EDF held a 2 minute silence FOR OUR SOLDIERS. The amateurish way in which these issues are being addressed by our politicians is more than worrying. We ALL have a right to protest. I praise the EDL for remaining dignified throughout considering the unreported provocation that they receive.

- Jules, West Midlands

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SEE ALSO
Who are the English Defence League?
11 Sep 09 |  Magazine
Protests were 'mainly peaceful'
11 Oct 09 |  Manchester
Dozens arrested during protests
10 Oct 09 |  Manchester
EDL member defends group's views
09 Oct 09 |  England


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