UK

Counter-protesters gather near Cenotaph ahead of pro-Palestine demonstration

Officers from the Metropolitan Police on duty beside the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, ahead of marches planned for the centre of the city on Saturday – Armistice Day. Picture date: Friday November 10, 2023.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police on duty beside the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, ahead of marches planned for the centre of the city on Saturday – Armistice Day. Picture date: Friday November 10, 2023. Officers from the Metropolitan Police on duty beside the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, ahead of marches planned for the centre of the city on Saturday – Armistice Day. Picture date: Friday November 10, 2023.

Counter-protesters gathered near the Cenotaph in central London ahead of a pro-Palestine demonstration on Armistice Day which is expected to be one of the largest political marches in British history.

A large crowd of people bearing St George’s flags was seen walking along Embankment and shouting “England till I die” shortly after 10am on Saturday.

Clashes broke out as police attempted to stop them from reaching Whitehall but the group pushed through, with some shouting “let’s have them” as officers hit out with batons.

A service took place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am, which passed off peacefully, and a two-minute silence was observed.

POLITICS Israel
POLITICS Israel (PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters were arriving at Hyde Park near the designated starting point for the march on Saturday morning, which is due to set off at noon.

Many were carrying Palestinian flags while others clutch placards emblazoned with slogans such as “free Palestine”, “hands of al Aqsa”, “end Israeli apartheid” and “end the siege” and “baby killer Biden stop arming Israel”.

Organisers of the demonstration calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel anticipate more than 500,000 people will join.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has issued a plea for “unity” amid tensions over the march on the day the UK marks the end of the First World War.

There are concerns about the risk of counter-protests, particularly around the Cenotaph, even though the demonstration is not intended to go near the monument.

Scotland Yard will deploy nearly 2,000 officers across central London in a major policing operation over the weekend.

On the eve of the mass protest, the Prime Minister said in a statement: “It is because of those who fought for this country and for the freedom we cherish that those who wish to protest can do so, but they must do so respectfully and peacefully.

“Remembrance weekend is sacred for us all and should be a moment of unity, of our shared British values and of solemn reflection.”

Israel-Hamas conflict
Israel-Hamas conflict Tommy Robinson speaks to police officers as he arrives at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, ahead of a pro-Palestinian protest march which is taking place from Hyde Park to the US embassy in Vauxhall (Jeff Moore/PA)

Home Secretary Suella Braverman remains under pressure from all sides after accusing the police of bias when they resisted pressure to ban the pro-Palestinian march.

After her comments were widely criticised and sparked calls for Mr Sunak to sack her, Mrs Braverman on Friday expressed her “full backing” for the Metropolitan Police at a meeting with Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley.

The officer in charge of policing London during Saturday’s protest told the PA news agency that the force has been “clear” on how it polices protests.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “Our job is to ensure that we police without fear or favour, that we balance the rights of everybody, be that protesters, counter-protesters, or people living or coming into London.

“And our job this weekend is to ensure that people are kept safe, and that is what my focus is on.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he had granted consent for transport police to make orders banning protests at three London railway stations so that people can travel “free from intimidation”.

The number of officers on duty in London will be double the usual amount, with 1,850 officers on Saturday and 1,375 on Sunday.

An exclusion zone will be put in place using metal barriers covering Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance and other relevant areas, to prevent those on the march from entering the locations.

The Cenotaph will also have a dedicated 24-hour police presence which will remain in place until the conclusion of Remembrance events on Sunday.

The Met said the march and all speeches must end at 5pm, and a Section 60 and 60AA power will be in place covering Westminster and parts of Wandsworth and Lambeth between 10am on Saturday and 1am on Sunday.

This provides officers with additional powers to search anyone in the area for weapons, and requires people in the area to remove face coverings that are believed to be concealing their identity.

A dispersal zone will be in place covering key central London locations including Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.