Heavy police presence for British far-right rally
Thousands of supporters of a British far-right group on Saturday staged a rally in the town that spawned their movement, as police were deployed in large numbers amid fears of violence.
Supporters of the English Defence League (EDL), a group which says it is against militant Islam, took to the streets of Luton, north of London, which has emerged as a flashpoint between radical Islam and Britain's far-right.
Counter-demonstrations were also under way by a group called Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and sections of the town's large Muslim community, stoking fears that clashes could break out in the tense town.
The EDL marchers, whom British media reports numbered at between 2,500 and 3,000, chanted "Muslim bombers off our streets" while holding banners, some of which read "No more mosques."
More than 1,000 police officers were deployed in a bid to keep the rival protests apart.
The EDL has billed the event as "Back to Where It All Began" -- a reference to the movement's beginnings in the town around two years ago.
Luton has come to be regarded as an extremist hotbed in recent years, an image that was reinforced when local resident Taymour Abdelwahab blew himself up in a botched suicide attack in Stockholm in December.
The town, where around 15 percent of the population of nearly 200,000 are Muslim, was also the departure point for the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people on London's transport system on July 7, 2005.
The protest came on the same day that Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Britain's long-standing policy of multiculturalism as a failure, calling for better integration of young Muslims to combat home-grown extremism.
The "hands-off tolerance" of those who reject Western values has failed, Cameron told the Munich Security Conference, in comments that sparked immediate anger from Muslim groups.
Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, criticised the prime minister's failure to mention the EDL in his speech.
"We find it very disappointing that, at a time when we should seek to stand together to fight violence and extremism, Mr Cameron omits any reference to this extremist group spreading hate and bigotry against British Muslims," he said.
The Muslim Council of Britain is an umbrella body representing some 500 organisations, including mosques, charities and schools.
© 2011 AFP