Four police officers were injured after pro-Palestinian protesters set off fireworks into crowds in central London, with 29 arrests made on suspicion of racially motivated crimes.
The Metropolitan police said more than 1,300 officers were on duty on Saturday as tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the Israel-Gaza conflict, adding that it had adopted a more “sharpened and proactive” intervention approach to the protests.
The protest came as both British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman called for tougher action against extremist acts during these protests, especially one planned next weekend to coincide with Armistice Day when Britain's war martyrs are commemorated.
“It is disappointing that various splinter groups were again responsible for behaviour which has no place in London, and we are determined to deal with this robustly. Fireworks were directed towards officers, and four officers were injured,” said Met Police Commander Karen Findlay, who is responsible for policing in London this week.
“We dealt with breakaway groups from the main protest quickly. Officers intervened to prevent further disruption, using the full range of powers at their disposal. This effective intervention ensured Londoners were able to go about their business,” she said.
Of the 29 arrests, nine people were held for public order offences, including racially aggravated crimes; two were arrested on suspicion of breach of the UK's Terrorism Act in relation to the wording of a banner; three were arrested for assaulting a police officer; 10 were arrested for breaching a police dispersal order; and the others have been held on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, causing actual bodily harm, violent disorder and possession of an offensive weapon.
“I have full confidence in the Metropolitan Police to ensure public safety and take all factors into account as they have done in similar situations in the past,” Braverman said ahead of the protests.
With a reference to similar protests planned next weekend, she noted, “I agree with the Prime Minister. It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London."
“If it goes ahead, there is an obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage as well as offending millions of decent British people,” she said.
Earlier this week, Sunak had posted a statement on X warning that a planned pro-Palestinian protest in London next weekend would be “provocative and disrespectful”, as he deputed his home secretary to intervene.
“To plan protests on Armistice Day is provocative and disrespectful, and there is a clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for,” said Sunak.
“The right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms must be protected. I have asked the Home Secretary to support the Met Police in doing everything necessary to protect the sanctity of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday,” he said.
Armistice Day on November 11, also known as Remembrance Day, commemorates the end of hostilities during World War I in 1918 and honours the martyrs of both World Wars.
On Saturday, an estimated 30,000 demonstrators gathered in Trafalgar Square for a rally led by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and a group of protesters also brought traffic to a standstill on Oxford Street with a sit-in protest. In some train stations in London and Scotland, protesters staged sit-ins, with protests also taking place across other UK cities, including Manchester.