Protests pass off peacefully

The EDL and Unity demonstrations in Birmingham city centre have ended with few problems and minimal disruption to the city.

EDL Birmingham October 2011 Photo Phil Locke

EDL Birmingham October 2011 Photo Phil Locke

Police have praised the people of Birmingham on a day which saw several protests taking place in the city centre.

The far-right English Defence League attracted a crowd of around 400 to their demonstration in Centenary Square, while the multi-faith Unity counter-protest saw around 500 attending throughout the afternoon in nearby Chamberlain Square. Around 20 Occupy protestors were also continuing their protest in Victoria Square.

Police from around the Midlands kept the separate groups apart, and despite a few isolated incidents the occasion passed off relatively peacefully with minimal disruption to Saturday afternoon shoppers .

EDL supporters began arriving at around noon, drinking in several bars on Broad Street whille police looked on. There were reports of glasses being thrown and fireworks let off in the area, which led some police intervention. Meanwhile, the Unity day began with an appeal to local youths for calm from Tariq Jahan, whose son was killed during the recent riots, although heavy rain kept early numbers to a minimum.

The EDL made their way into Centenary Square, where speakers warned against the growing threat of Islam; “They say Asian when they mean Muslim” was the view of one speaker. While this was taking place the Unity protest continued with music and speakers from several local groups including MP John Hemming and community activist Maxie Hayles, who criticised the cost to council taxpayers resulting from the police decision to allow the EDL to protest in the city.

Scuffles broke out during the EDL demonstration and bottles were thrown, although the disorder was quickly dealt with by police in riot gear. The demonstration ended at around 3pm with protestors being bussed away from the area under heavy police escort. There were no concerted attempts to break through police lines, although several EDL members were vociferous in their desire to enter the city centre.

As the Unity demonstration continued a group of predominantly-Asian youths moved away from Chamberlain Square and towards Colmore Row, although their progress was halted by the arrival of police reinforcements and they were quickly dispersed.

By 4.30 both squares were empty of protesters, with a small amount of police still in attendance and a heavy uniformed presence in the shopping areas of New Street and High Street. Four arrests had been made and a small number of injuries believed to have been caused by flying glass in Centenary Square, although police told us that the operation had been a success and praised the people of the city for going about their ordinary business. A spokesman for Unite against Fascism, one of the groups involved in Unity, said “It was a good event. The people of Birmingham showed that they don’t want the EDL here.”

Most people in the vicinity praised the actions of the police, who ensured that inconvenience was kept to a minimum with some roads closed for a short while and access denied to Victoria and Centenary Squares for part of the afternoon. However, one of the Occupy demonstrators did ask “Why are we being kept behind fences while the EDL can come here and get a police guard?”

More pictures from demonstrations can be found on photographer Phil Locke’s website here