Around 300,000 people marched calmly in London on Saturday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, a demonstration marred, according to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, by the presence of Hamas sympathizers but also that of nationalist counter-protesters.
The police, who cited the figure of around 300,000 people, estimated that it was “the largest march” organized since October 7 in the city.
Calmly displaying Palestinian flags and brandishing signs asking to “stop the bombing of Gaza”, the demonstrators shouted “Free Palestine” and “ceasefire now”, five weeks after the deadly attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas against Israel, which in response massively bombs the Gaza Strip.
A major security system had been deployed in the British capital to avoid possible excesses, after the arrest of nearly 200 people during previous marches "for Palestine" organized since October 7, and in the face of the mobilization of counter -nationalist demonstrators, particularly from the English Defense League (EDL).
“I condemn the violent and totally unacceptable scenes we witnessed today from the EDL and associated groups, as well as Hamas sympathizers participating in the” National March for Palestine, reacted in the evening Mr. Sunak.
The march was held against the advice of the government, which had deemed it “disrespectful” on this weekend of commemorations of the armistice of the First World War.
“I am here in solidarity with the Palestinians in the face of the injustice that is happening. It’s intolerable,” Gavin Searle, a 58-year-old director from Hastings (southern England), told AFP.
“We cannot stand by and do nothing when people are killed,” says Shiraz Bobra, 41, from Leicester (center). She hopes that the mobilization will encourage political leaders “to sit around the table and organize” a ceasefire.
John McGowan, a Catholic priest, who says he lived in Jerusalem for five years and defends a two-state solution, says he "suffers for the Palestinians because their land is occupied and their occupants can be cruel."
Nearly 2,000 police officers were mobilized, in particular to try to avoid confrontations with nationalist activists, who came in "hundreds", according to the police, including Tommy Robinson, founder of the far-right group EDL.
Scuffles took place at the end of the morning between the police and some of these activists, who tried to approach the Whitehall area, the site of the memorial in tribute to British soldiers who died in combat.
At the start of the afternoon, police said they had arrested 82 while they were “trying to join the pro-Palestinian march”.
Some 150 participants in this procession were also arrested for hiding their faces or setting off fireworks. The police announced that they were “actively” looking for two masked demonstrators wearing headbands in the colors of Hamas.
The government had put pressure, in vain, on the police to ban the march. Rishi Sunak had warned that he would hold the police chief, Mark Rowley, “responsible” for any excesses.
Interior Minister Suella Braverman, who described the pro-Palestinian demonstrations as “hate marches”, for her part questioned the impartiality of the police in their management of the demonstrations.
Friday evening, she returned to her comments by affirming that she “totally supported” the police, but several political leaders accused her of adding fuel to the fire before the procession took place.
Several opposition elected officials again called for his departure from the government on Saturday, such as Scottish Prime Minister Humza Yousaf.
“The far right was encouraged by the Minister of the Interior (...) They are now attacking the police on Armistice Day,” he wrote on X, calling for Ms Braverman's resignation.
Since the start of the conflict, the United Kingdom has experienced an increase in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts.