Violent clashes erupt between counter-protesters and police as 300,000 Palestine activists march through London

11 November 2023, 17:22 | Updated: 11 November 2023, 17:39

Violent clashes have erupted between police and counter-protesters
Violent clashes have erupted between police and counter-protesters. Picture: social media/hope not hate/LBC/Met
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Violent clashes erupted between far-right counter-protesters and police today as 300,000 pro-Palestinian activists marched through central London.

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Thousands of counter-protesters descended onto central London earlier this morning ahead of a two-minute silence near the Cenotaph.

Fights quickly broke out between police and the counter-protesters, with footage showing a large group chanting 'England 'til I die' and 'let's have them' as the broke through a human barrier of officers.

Violent clashes then quickly broke out in Chinatown, Soho, shortly afterwards, where riot police were called in as counter-protesters launched missiles at officers.

It was at this point that the English Defence League's former leader Tommy Robinson, who had called on his followers to 'protect' the Cenotaph in the week, left in a taxi.

Shortly afterwards, a pro-Palestinian march - attracting 300,000 activists at its peak - started a planned demonstration at Hyde Park.

More than 100 counter-protesters were arrested by the police as they tried to reach the march, the Met said.

Follow all the key developments from today's protest in our live blog here

Counter-protesters moved back as pro-Palestinian activists march in London

A spokesperson for the Met said: "While the two minutes’ silence was marked respectfully and without incident on Whitehall, officers have faced aggression from counter protestors who are in the area in significant numbers. 

"The counter protestors are not one cohesive group. There are different groups moving away from Whitehall towards other parts of central London. "

"Officers are keeping track of them as they do. If their intention is to confront the main protest departing later today from Park Lane, we will use all the powers and tactics available to us to prevent that from happening."

More violence erupted near Whitehall later in the afternoon, with footage taken by LBC showing bottles and missiles being thrown at officers near Parliament.

Sangita Myska reacts as 92 'right-wing counter-protesters' have been arrested by the Met police

Political reaction to the scenes of violence has been seeping in through the day, with much of the focus on the Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Ms Braverman has been blamed for the clashes, after she called on the Met to ban today's pro-Palestinian protest and accused the police of bias. 

Scotland's First Minister, Humza Yousaf, called on her to resign. 

Meanwhile, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: "The scenes of disorder we witnessed by the far-right at the Cenotaph are a direct result of the Home Secretary's words. The police's job has been made much harder. 

"The Met have my full support to take action against anyone found spreading hate and breaking the law."

The Cenotaph is set to be under 24-hour police guard during the protests.
The Cenotaph is set to be under 24-hour police guard during the protests. Picture: Alamy

Much of the pro-Palestine protest, which ran from Hyde Park to the US embassy in Battersea, was peaceful.

However, LBC's Lewis Goodall was at the protest, where he noted a number of "anti-Semitic" tropes had been heard, including that 'Jews control the media'.

He also captured footage showing the controversial 'from the river to the sea' slogan being chanted, which has been described as a chant calling for the erasure of Israel.

Meanwhile, police said they were hunting two men who were seen wearing Hamas headbands.

The Prime Minsiter Rishi Sunak previously labelled plans for an Armistice Day protest as "provocative and disrespectful" and said there was a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated".

Mr Sunak said both the police and the government had worked to ensure that Armistice Weekend goes ahead without any disruption - which has included banning some smaller protests planned for train stations.

Almost 2,000 officers have been on guard throughout remembrance weekend events, with more than 1,000 cops drafted in from across England and Wales to assist in policing the weekend’s events.

Scotland Yard said on Friday afternoon that an exclusion zone will be put in place covering Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance and other relevant areas, in effect banning those on the march from these locations.

Counter-protesters clashed with police near Whitehall.
Counter-protesters clashed with police near Whitehall. Picture: Social media

The Cenotaph has been on 24-hour guard from officers - those found gathering near the memorial can be arrested under measures announced by the Met.

Read more: Rishi Sunak calls for unity on Armistice Day, as police fear 'serious disorder' amid Palestine march counter-protests

Read more: Cenotaph to have 24-hour police guard in 2,000-strong Armistice Day ‘ring of steel’ as Sunak bans smaller protests

Mr Sunak issued a further statement on Friday afternoon, saying: "This weekend people across the United Kingdom will stand together in quiet reflection to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

"This act of remembrance is fundamental to who we are as a country and I want to reassure those wishing to pay their respects, attend services and travel that they can and should do so.

“Following my meeting with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner earlier this week - and the Government’s engagement with police forces around the country – the police assure us they are taking all steps to ensure Remembrance services are safeguarded from any protests.

"Protests will only be permitted far away from Remembrance events, and the Cenotaph in Whitehall – the abiding symbol of Remembrance – has been placed in an exclusion zone and will be guarded around the clock to protect it for those travelling to pay their respects."

He added that the government had banned several protests that had been planned for train stations, which he says "were only designed to disrupt and intimidate".

Rishi Sunak described the protest planned for Armistice day as 'provocative and disrespectful'.
Rishi Sunak described the protest planned for Armistice day as 'provocative and disrespectful'. Picture: Alamy

“It is because of those who fought for this country and for the freedom we cherish that those who wish to protest can do so, but they must do so respectfully and peacefully," Mr Sunak continued.

"Remembrance weekend is sacred for us all and should be a moment of unity, of our shared British values and of solemn reflection. Above all, this weekend should be about the selfless bravery of our armed forces. We shall remember them.”

Scotland Yard is also planning a clamp down on convoys of Palestine supporters driving through London’s Jewish communities.

Specialist traffic officers will be deployed in cars and on motorcycles and public order officers deployed to keep communities safe and to ensure any cars travelling towards the protest do not commit offences.

Police warned that they would probably use force to manage the protests at some stage.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, who will be running the police's response on the day, said: "There will be times this weekend where you see pockets of confrontation, you will see police intervention".

He added: "I hope we don’t but I think it’s likely you’ll see police use force to manage the situations.

"At times it might look messy and that doesn’t equate to serious disorder or us losing control, but it does equate to us taking robust action.

The protest is expected to see half a million march, organisers have said.
The protest is expected to see half a million march, organisers have said. Picture: Alamy

"Our use of force is to prevent serious disorder, harm coming to people or to prevent serious disruption. Significantly bigger police resource than any other remembrance weekend.

"This is probably going to be one of the most challenging weekends I’ve had and it’s certainly one of the biggest responses we’ve had".

He said that the closest comparison in terms of numbers would be the People’s March against Brexit in October 2019, where between 900,000 and 1.1 million are thought to have taken part.

One person was arrested at that march for trespassing in Parliament. Dozens of protesters have been arrested so far on the pro-Palestine marches, including several for hate crimes. Some police officers have been injured as well.

"There is no doubt this is going to be a very tense weekend," DAC Taylor said.

He added: "We know there are likely to be groups from both sides who seek each other out later in the day. We have constantly assessed intel throughout the week to ensure it’s a proportionate policing plan in place and I do believe if the groups come together there will be serious disorder."

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More than 10,000 people have died in Gaza amid an Israeli bombing campaign and ground invasion, which follows a Hamas massacre in which over 1,000 were killed.

The protesters are calling for a ceasefire, which neither Hamas nor Israel has said they want, although the IDF has agreed to daily humanitarian pauses to allow aid into Gaza.

The Prime Minister has faced calls to sack Home Secretary Suella Braverman after her incendiary comments about the planned pro-Palestine, writing in an article for The Times.

Downing Street said on Thursday that it did not clear her piece accusing police of "playing favourites" with protesters, but that Mr Sunak still has confidence in the Home Secretary.

But the Prime Minister is said to be considering Ms Braverman's future, and considering the possibility of bringing forward a Cabinet reshuffle previously slated for before Christmas.

Downing Street is conducting an internal investigation into whether Ms Braverman broke the code by not getting her article signed off fully. If it finds there was a breach, Mr Sunak may either demand an apology, or fire her.