The most influential Muslim leader in the West Midlands urged his followers to ‘vent their feelings’ against Right-wing protesters during a Birmingham rally that ended in violent clashes and 90 arrests.
Birmingham Central Mosque chairman Dr Mohammad Naseem encouraged Muslims to counter-demonstrate during Saturday’s anti-Islamic protest by the English Defence League (EDL).
The police had advised community leaders to stop people from attending, reported The Times.
But Dr Naseem said it is not his place to discourage his followers from attending protests: ‘The thing is, that is their right, I cannot say, “You don’t have this right.”‘
Troubled flared as the two groups of protesters clashed in the New Street area of the city centre, close to the main train station.
Terrified shoppers looked on in horror as gangs of men and youths hurled bottles at one another and pelted riot police with bricks.
Dr Naseem said that Muslims were instructed to not attend the rally alone but to team up with other counter-demonstrators including socialist and other religious groups.
He added that he had been assured by police that the EDL protesters and counter-protesters would gather in separate locations.
He said: ‘If it was kept as originally intended, then everybody would have had a chance to give vent to their feelings without coming into contact with each other. And that I will take up with the police.’
Last month there were also clashes when the English Defence League–formed after British soldiers were abused by Islamic radicals at a homecoming parade in Luton–held a rally on the same day as the Unite Against Fascism group.
The latest disorder involved around 200 people and spilled on to Bennetts Hill, a street popular with shoppers and lined with a number of pubs.
English Defence League marchers were involved in running disturbances which lasted all afternoon before the Right-wing protesters were taken to another part of the city by bus.
Witnesses claimed the English Defence League marchers, many of whom had been drinking since the morning, ripped up seats on the journey away from the city centre.
But some members slipped away from the police, clashing with more than 30 socialist protesters amid cries of ‘Racist scum, out of Brum’. After an hour of angry skirmishes in the city centre, the situation deteriorated further after a group of Asian men also joined in.
Sarah Edwards had to duck into a cafe to avoid being caught in the violence.
She said: ‘We suddenly saw what seemed to be about 200 Asian men running down the street, throwing bricks.
‘They had bandanas over their faces and were shouting and screaming. We were so scared, we feared for our lives and had to run into the cafe so we wouldn’t get hurt. It is so shocking to see this on our streets’
The English Defence League has claimed it is not racist, even saying it did not want any violence to happen at the pre-planned protest.
One protester from the league, Leisha Brookes, 42, said: ‘We are simply protesting about the fact that if people come to our country, they should respect our laws.
‘If an English person went to an Arab country they would be expected to dress appropriately, and all we are asking is for them to do the same.’
The league has planned protest marches in other cities, including one next month in Manchester.
Yesterday a West Midlands Police spokesman said all those arrested were male, aged between 16 and 39, and offences included criminal damage and violent disorder, including possession of an offensive weapon.
He added: ‘A number of fixed penalty notices have been issued while the remainder have been bailed while further enquiries take place.’
Birmingham City Council last night praised the police for ‘successfully’ managing the event.
But Labour MP Khalid Mahmood accused police of failing to prevent the riots.
He said: ‘Police have had four weeks to plan for this but they have failed innocent members of the public in Birmingham city centre.
‘It has been a complete mess in terms of policing. The force needs to look at things at the highest level.’