Anti-fascists clash with right-wing protesters in Birmingham
VIOLENT rioting brought Birmingham city centre to a standstill as rival groups of protesters clashed today.
Around 100 members of the right-wing English Defence League fought running battles with socialist demonstrators for more than three hours on Saturday afternoon.
Terrified shoppers locked themselves inside stores and cafes as they tried to avoid the fighting.
More than 30 people were arrested as police struggled to prevent the protests spilling over.
Members of the English Defence League, who had travelled from Luton and Bristol, held up signs reading: “Islamic Extremists Out” and “Make Britain Safe”.
They met in the Figure of Eight pub in Broad Street at 12.30pm where they began drinking pints of beer.
They sang the national anthem and Rule Britannia, as well as shouting insults against Allah and Islam.
But the protests turned nasty when the EDL reached New Street at about 2pm, where they clashed with 30 or so socialist protesters, who were holding up banners saying: “Give the EDL the red card.”
Shaven-headed men, some with bulldogs, squared up to the rival protesters before riot police intervened.
Bottles and glasses were thrown and masked men were seen wielding wooden poles.
Punches were thrown and the cops used their batons to stop the violence escalating further.
After an hour of angry skirmishes, police finally trapped around 60 EDL members in Bennetts pub in the city centre at 3.30pm, where they were held for more than an hour.
Meanwhile, a group of 60 Asian men gathered and tried to storm the premises, only being stopped by police using shields and protective headgear.
Moments later the gang re-appeared on a nearby street, throwing missiles and bricks they had picked up from a builder’s skip.
Eye-witness Sarah Edwards, who was locked in a cafe with dozens of other shoppers, said: “We suddenly saw about 200 Asian men running down the street throwing bricks.
“They came from nowhere, and were sprinting towards the pub where the EDL were.
“They wore bandanas over their faces and were shouting and screaming.
“We were so scared.
“We really feared for our lives and we had to run into the cafe so we wouldn’t get hurt.
“It’s shocking to see this on our streets.”
West Midlands Police had planned to contain the protest at Lancaster Circus at 3.30pm – but the violence in the city centre meant they did not arrive until 5pm.
Police finally shepherded the EDL from Bennetts pub into double-decker buses.
As the convoy made its way to the demo site, drunken men were seen ripping up the seats and throwing them out of the window.
Socialists shouted: “Nazi scum, out of Brum” while rival groups held placards reading: “Ban Mosques” and “No Sharia law”.
A police helicopter was deployed to monitor the protest and officers videoed the trouble.
Before the demonstration police and the city council had obtained an order allowing them to restrict “trespassing groups” in the Bullring area of the city.
They were granted permission to impose conditions on the protesters, restricting them to certain locations and a limit of 250 people.
Orders were also passed restricting the demonstrations to two locations.
A West Midlands Police spokeswoman said: “West Midlands Police can confirm that in excess of 20 people have now been arrested in two separate incidents in Birmingham city centre.
“A group of more than 20 men were arrested on a bus in Digbeth High Street.
“Police moved in to make the arrests for violent disorder shortly after 3.30pm.
“Officers have also arrested a 41 year-old male for violent disorder in Waterloo Street.”
Leisha Brookes, from the EDL, said: “We are ptotesting against Sharia Law and the acceptance by our Government of Islamic extremism.
“It is unfortunate that it has come to this but we are a mulit faith group who are just trying to protest against extremism.”
She insisted that she did not want to see any violence and that the group were not fascists.”
No-one from the socialist protest group was available for comment.