Police arrested more than 160 people in east London on Saturday during rival protests by hundreds of anti-Islamist activists and thousands of counter-demonstrators near an area home to one of Britain’s largest Muslim communities.
About 3,000 police officers were deployed to keep a group of 500 members of the right-wing English Defence League, or EDL, apart from a larger group of anti-racist protesters, including Unite Against Fascism.
Police formed lines across the streets to enforce a ban on the EDL marching to the borough of Tower Hamlets, which has a large Muslim community, and to keep the counter-demonstrators in their assigned area.
Police imposed the geographic restrictions on the EDL march as well as a time restriction, fearing a risk to public order. The EDL lost a court battle on Friday to overturn the ban.
A police spokesman said about 150 counter-protesters were arrested after a group broke away and headed towards Tower Bridge where the EDL march was to end.
He said 14 others, mainly from the EDL, were arrested during the day for violent disorder, possession of knives and fireworks, and one 30-year-old man for inciting others to break the conditions set for the protest.
The EDL said on its Twitter account that the group’s leader, Tommy Robinson, was arrested “for incitement”.
Despite the high number of arrests, the police spokesman said there were no serious clashes.
“The police presence did manage to keep the two groups apart,” he said.
Local MPs had written to police calling for the march to be banned, fearing a repeat of violent clashes in 2011 between the EDL, police and anti-fascist groups in Tower Hamlets.
They argued that the historical violence of EDL marches and heightened threats made against the Muslim community since the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in a south London street in May posed a threat to community safety.
Two suspects, both British Muslims, face trial in November over Rigby’s killing.
Chief Superintendent Jim Read of London’s Metropolitan Police said the EDL and any counter group had a right to protest, but under conditions that would prevent any intimidation and public disorder.