Around 300,000 people turned out for a large pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday as police arrested scores of counter-protesters for attempting to confront the marchers.
There was heavy police presence in central London’s Hyde Park Corner as protesters chanted “free, free Palestine” and “ceasefire now.” They were also heard chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
A spokesperson for London’s Metropolitan Police told CNN that an estimated total of 300,000 people attended the demonstration, which coincided with annual Armistice Day commemorations, Veterans Day in the US.
Police said they arrested 82 counter-protesters “to prevent a breach of the peace.” They said they had “faced aggression from counter-protesters.” who stormed the area “in significant numbers” as the rally was building up.
One pro-Palestinian protester told CNN she was “flabbergasted at the hypocrisy of those supporting Ukraine but not Palestine.”
“Some politicians may be on our side, but they are too afraid to speak out,” she added.
Another protester said the number of people who had turned out for the march was “inspiring.” “We need to speak out for the voiceless,” they added.
Far-right scuffle with police
The police had promised to use “all the powers and tactics available to us” to stop the counter-protesters confronting the pro-Palestinian march.
Earlier in the day, a CNN team on the ground heard shouts and observed a heavy police presence as a group of far-right protesters tried to storm the war memorial which had been placed in an exclusion zone for protection.
Far-right organizer Tommy Robinson led a small but noisy demonstration to try and reach the Cenotaph, a symbolic landmark which is located in Whitehall, the London district where the Prime Minister and government departments reside.
During the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the UK has traditionally observed a two-minute silence to commemorate the moment guns fell silent marking the end of World War I in 1918.
Video posted on the ground from the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate showed far-right protestors dressed in black pushing the police lines at various points around Whitehall.
The unrest follows a political row over the pro-Palestinian protests earlier this week when Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman went off-script to accuse police of being too lenient on the demonstrators.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had initially attempted to stop the pro-Palestinian protest from going ahead.
While later accepting that the march would take place, Sunak stuck to his line that choosing to protest on this particular weekend is “not just disrespectful but offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the disorder seen at London’s Cenotaph on Saturday was a “direct result” of the words of Braverman.
“The scenes of disorder we witnessed by the far-right at the Cenotaph are a direct result of the Home Secretary’s words. The police’s job has been made much harder,” said Khan on social media, adding that London’s Metropolitan Police has his “full support to take action against anyone found spreading hate and breaking the law.”