Arrests as missiles thrown at anti-Islamist rally in Britain

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Thirteen men were arrested Saturday in the ethnically-mixed British city of Bradford as a far-right, anti-Islamist group clashed with anti-fascist demonstrators in the streets.

Members of the English Defence League (EDL) threw bottles, stones and smoke bombs during violent scenes as police struggled to keep the two sides apart.

A heavy police presence largely contained the stand-off but the protest raised fears of a repeat of race riots that rocked Bradford in 2001.

The government banned the EDL from marching through the northern English city amid fears of unrest.

They staged a "static" demonstration in a small area in the centre of the Yorkshire city, home to one of Britain's largest Pakistani communities, against what they claim is the expansion of radical Islam in Britain.

Police said fewer than 1,000 people turned up on each side.

Despite two cordons of police, the groups briefly got near each other and EDL members threw bottles, cans, stones and a smoke bomb over the barricades.

Chanting "give us our country back" and holding signs saying "no more mosques" and "no to sharia (law)", the EDL protesters were soon pushed back by police.

"We're against radical Islam, no other Muslims," EDL security chief Leon McCreery told AFP.

"But what the normal Muslims should do is stand up and defend themselves. There's bad people in everything... we may have a few idiots, the same reason the Muslims may have a few idiots."

EDL supporter Abdul Salam told AFP: "We all want peace, we all want a peaceful Britain, we don't want terrorists attacking this country.

"All the Muslims are welcome to come here, but the Muslims here (on he other side of the stand-off) chose to be on that side and support terrorism. That's not Muslims, that's hypocrites, who are terrorists, so they'll go to the fire of hell."

On the other side of the cordons, Wahida Shaffi, from the Bradford Women for Peace organisation, said: "The EDL presence in Bradford just confirms the extremist nature of the EDL.

"Not only are they violent but their extreme messages have come across loud and clear for the world to see."

West Yorkshire Police said 13 men were arrested for public order and violence offences. Eight of them were from Bradford.

"The police has worked effectively to handle the situation and to respond quickly to the events as they unfolded," a spokesman said.

"The mood of the city in general has been one of calm and local people have co-operated and supported the police by behaving sensibly or staying away."

Saturday's demonstration was closely watched amid concerns of a repeat of 2001, when a planned march by another far-right group sparked riots by local youths.

More than 300 police officers were injured in running street battles, and 200 people were eventually jailed over the unrest.

Ratna Lachman, from the Just West Yorkshire human rights group, said: "I think the great thing about today is that the Asian young men did not respond with the same violence and hate that the EDL responded with and I think as a city we've learned our lesson 10 years on."

© 2010 AFP

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