About 300,000 people marched through the British capital on Saturday, as pro-Palestinian supporters made a new call for a Gaza war ceasefire.
Authorities had feared trouble as the “National March for Palestine” was scheduled for Armistice Day, Britain’s annual commemoration of its war dead. Dozens of arrests were reported.
The march set off after a two-minute silence was observed at The Cenotaph war memorial in central London.
A police spokesman said about 300,000 were estimated to be taking part.
Protesters waved black, red, white and green Palestinian flags and held aloft placards proclaiming “Stop Bombing Gaza”.
There have been nearly weekly rallies in London since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, in which at least 1,200 people were killed and 239 people taken hostage, according to Israel.
The Israeli air and ground military campaign in response has left over 11,000 people in Gaza dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Shouts of “free Palestine”, “ceasefire now” and “Israel is a terror state” rang out from the London protest.
“Forget the political stance, forget everything else, you can’t stand around while people are getting killed,” Shiraz Bobra, 41, who travelled from Leicester, central England, told AFP. He added that he would come every week until a ceasefire was enforced.
Gavin Searle, a 58-year-old television director from Hastings in south England, said he had come “to show solidarity with the Palestinians when there’s a massive injustice taking place.”
Roman Catholic priest Father John McGowan added: “I feel for the Palestinians because their land is occupied and their occupiers can be cruel” and said he hoped for a two-state solution.
– Scuffles –
London police have made nearly 100 arrests at previous pro-Palestinian marches, including for supporting Hamas, which is considered a “terrorist” group in the UK.
Amidst the public order fears,
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a late plea for calm late on Friday, calling for protesters to act “respectfully and peacefully”.
March organisers had changed the route from Hyde Park to the US Embassy in south London to ensure it will not pass any landmark memorials.
Metal barriers have been placed around the area containing the most significant memorials, and an exclusion zone created, with police able to arrest any marchers who try to breach it.
Thousands of people wearing red poppies — the symbol of remembrance — stood heads bowed at The Cenotaph on Whitehall for a solemn ceremony of reflection, with other services held up and down the country.
Minor scuffles broke out near the memorial as counter-protesters — many dressed in black with their faces covered, and some waving England’s St George’s flag and the Union Jack — tried to break through police lines.
Missiles were later thrown at officers in the nearby Chinatown area, the Metropolitan Police said.
Police later said that they had arrested 82 counter-protestors in order to “prevent a breach of the peace”, saying they “tried to reach the main protest march.
“We will continue to take action to avoid the disorder that would likely take place if that happened,” added the statement.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, leading the police operation, has said counter-protesters were likely to include football hooligans, and police were “likely” to have to use force at some point against “pockets of confrontation”.
– Political row –
About 1,850 police officers, including some brought from other regions, have been drafted in to keep the peace, with 1,375 on Sunday, when a national service of remembrance takes place at The Cenotaph led by King Charles III, senior royals and political leaders.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, an increasingly outspoken right-winger, has done little to quell tensions, by accusing police of being more sympathetic to so-called left-wing protests than others.
Support for Palestinians is a long-standing policy of the British political left.
The government was also at odds with the Met this week, with ministers calling for the march to be banned, sparking concern over political interference in operational matters.
Sunak said he would hold Met Police commissioner Mark Rowley “accountable” for his decision to allow the demonstration to go ahead.
Rowley has said, however, that it does not meet the threshold for requesting a rare government order to stop it going ahead.
Originally published as 300,000 stage Armistice Day pro-Palestinian rally in London