Massive police presence keeps rival demos apart

Scottish Defence League Demonstration in Edinburgh on Waterloo Place.
Scottish Defence League Demonstration in Edinburgh on Waterloo Place.
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A HUGE police operation ensured a potentially explosive day of rival protests in the Capital passed without incident as far-right and anti-fascist demonstrations brought parts of the city centre to a standstill.

British Transport Police and officers from across the Central Belt were drafted in to bolster police numbers following warnings from right-wing extremists that they intended to tear opponents “limb from limb” during protests in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Around 150 activists from a “coalition” of anti-Islamic groups, spearheaded by The Scottish Defence League (SDL), held a “static” rally at Waterloo Place while approximately 250 members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) staged a counter-demonstration at The Mound before marching to the Wellington Statue on Princes Street.

Police halted traffic at the east end of Princes Street, Leith Street, North Bridge and Calton Road for around two hours as the rival demonstrations were held some 200 metres apart – buffered by a large police presence including a mounted division in riot uniform.

But despite the threat of violence ahead of the protests no confrontation ever materialised and police reported no arrests and “no incidents of concern”.

A brief flurry of police activity was sparked after anti-fascist activists began hurling abuse at SDL members from trees on Calton Hill but officers quickly responded to quell tensions.

Iain Livingstone, assistant chief constable at Lothian and Borders Police, said that he was “satisfied with the conduct” of the majority of participants in the respective demonstrations.

“The day passed without significant incident and allowed local residents and businesses to go about their day with minimum disruption.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the public in Edinburgh for their patience and support throughout the policing of this event.

“Edinburgh remains a hub for various demonstrations to take place and Lothian and Borders Police have a wealth of experience in facilitating both planned and spontaneous gatherings.”

Officers from Strathclyde, Tayside, Fife and Central forces were deployed alongside their Lothian and Borders counterparts for the high-security policing operation.

Concerns had been raised prior to the protests after an online post from a member of an English group called North West Infidels, who attended the SDL rally alongside a similar group known as the North East Infidels, threatened to “kick the s***” out of their opponents and tear them “limb from limb”.

In February 2010, around 50 SDL members visited Jenny Ha’s on Canongate, hanging banners and flags as thousands marched through Edinburgh as part of an anti-fascist protest.

This year the SDL had originally wanted to march from near the US Consulate to the east end of Princes Street which was rejected by the council’s licensing committee of fears about public disorder

Speakers at a UAF rally included include Malcolm Chisholm MSP, Colin Keir MSP and union representatives.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com