Far-right protesters clashed in London on Saturday with anti-racism demonstrators and police trying to keep the two sides apart after they rallied in London in rival demonstrations, despite strict restrictions and warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.
Fights broke out between groups outside London's Waterloo station, with fireworks thrown before police cordoned off areas. On a nearby bridge, stones were lobbed at police. Sporadic skirmishes continued in central areas.
Commenting on the incident, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a Tweet: "Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking our police will be met with the full force of the law."
Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking the police will be met with full force of the law. These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines. Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality.— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 13, 2020
Demonstrations have been taking place around the world and in parts of the United Kingdom over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis last monht after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.More: George Floyd: Protests over deadly arrest rock US's Minneapolis George Floyd death: Pressure mounts for US officers to be charged George Floyd: Black man dies after US police pin him to ground
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement they had arrested five people for offences including violent disorder and assault on police and that six officers had suffered minor injuries. The ambulance service said it had treated 15 people.
In the UK, a debate is raging over monuments to those involved in its imperialist past, especially after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the harbour of Bristol port last weekend. In London, a statue of Winston Churchill was daubed with the words "was a racist".
In and around Parliament Square earlier on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people wearing football shirts, chanting "England, England", and describing themselves as patriots, gathered alongside military veterans to guard the Cenotaph war memorial.
"Winston Churchill, he's one of our own," they chanted, near his statue.
Hundreds of people linked to far-right groups gathered in central London [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
A few kilometres away, anti-racism protesters gathered at Hyde Park, holding Black Lives Matter placards, even though organisers had told them not to attend, fearing clashes.
Police had separated two groups of about 100 people each in Trafalgar Square, one chanting "Black Lives Matter", and the other racial slurs. Some groups jostled, tossed bottles and cans and set off fireworks, as riot police lined up.'Fluid situation'
Reporting from central London, Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull said the police worked to protect anti-racism demonstrators in Trafalgar Square.
"Clashes erupted between the police and the right-wing protesters who have come out as advertised to protect the national monuments in Parliament Square, in the words of the leader of the group Britain First, one of the organisers," he said.
"In Trafalgar Square in central London, a group of rival Black Lives Matter protesters are being protected by the police," Hull added.
Anti-racism protesters gathered in central London even though organisers had told them not to attend fearing clashes [Simon Dawson/Reuters]
Hundreds of people also attended rallies in northern English cities like Liverpool and Newcastle, with many protesters donning masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Police said on Saturday that some people were bringing weapons to the London rallies. They imposed route restrictions on both groups and said rallies must end by 5pm (16:00 GMT) in a bid to avoid violent clashes.
"Anyone who thinks they can commit a crime or vandalise property will be arrested," Commander Bas Javid said in a statement.