Far-right rally in British town amid heavy police presence

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Thousands of supporters of a British far-right group on Saturday staged a rally in the town that spawned their movement, amid a heavy police presence.

About 2,000 supporters of the English Defence League (EDL), which campaigns 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.

They chanted "Muslim bombers off our streets" while holding banners, some of which read "No more mosques."

Another 1,000 people from the rival Unite Against Fascism (UAF) assembled nearby but there was no sign of the clashes that have marred previous EDL protests, and caused the deployment of 1,000 police officers Saturday.

"This afternoon's protest involving the English Defence League and a counter protest organised by Unite Against Facism seems to have passed relatively smoothly," a police statement said.

Eight arrests were made and 19 people, including three police officers, suffered minor injuries.

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.

Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, criticised the prime minister's failure to mention the EDL in his speech, saying it was an "extremist group spreading hate and bigotry against British Muslims".

© 2011 AFP

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