The English Defence League’s march in Manchester tomorrow will go ahead as planned despite stern opposition from leading city figures and members of the public.
The protest from the far-right organisation will be focussed around Manchester Town Hall in Albert Square from 1pm – but a counter demonstration is also set to take place.
Greater Manchester Unite Against Fascism (UAF) will hold a counter-demonstration tomorrow at Piccadilly Gardens from 11am.
Planned as a national coming together to support their cause, the EDL’s protest will be monitored by more than 300 Greater Manchester Police.
However, a letter drafted by Councillor Afzal Khan and signed by many including Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd, acknowledges their right to protest but indicates that ‘we can’t welcome people who spew hatred and racism’.
The UAF say the EDL are a far-right group whose members have a history of racism, violence and football hooliganism, referencing previous rallies in Manchester in 2009 and 2010 which prompted a number of arrests.
A statement issued by Greater Manchester Police answers public queries on why the demonstration, thought to be of around 500-700 EDL members, cannot be banned.
A GMP spokesman said: “The police do not have powers to ban people from coming to Manchester and protesting.
“Under Public Order Act legislation, police can place restrictions on demonstrators, such as when and where they can protest, but they cannot prevent protests from taking place as long as they are peaceful.
“Having said this, the police will not tolerate any individuals or groups acting in a racist manner or behaving in an inflammatory way and we will either respond to this immediately, or where this is not possible, officers will be filming the protest and gathering evidence throughout the day so future action can be taken.”
Manchester has often been heralded for its multiculturalism and acceptance of multi-faith societies, so demonstrations at the Town Hall, often the centre of celebrations for numerous international festivals, are not welcomed by many.
The UAF said: “Right now it is decorated with Chinese lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year.
“At the Jewish festival of Hanukkah there is a Menorah. Sikhs use the square for their celebration of the birthday of Guru Nanak. The Hindu festival of Divali is celebrated in Albert Square.
“At the Christmas Market there is a Nativity in Albert Square. Muslims have prayed in Albert Square on Peace Marches. Later in March, Albert Square will host the annual Irish festival which celebrates nearly 200 years of the Irish immigrant community in our city.
“Gay Pride started in Manchester’s Albert Square after the protests against the homophobic section 28.
“There is no place for the EDL in Albert Square – or anywhere else in Multicultural Manchester!”
The EDL, who describe themselves as ‘peacefully protesting against militant Islam’, will demonstrate fresh from the news that their leader Stephen Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, has been released from prison.
He was jailed for ten months in January for entering the United States using someone else’s passport, but has been released on the condition that he is electronically tagged.
EDL supporters have used social networks to commit their support to tomorrow’s Manchester demonstration.
In response to news their protest would be unwelcome, Alex Magnusson posted on the EDL Facebook: “Will be the same faces, the pale-skin dreadlocked, the feminist, the unwashed masses and the polished undergraduate turds alike.
“Every bug under every stone that fears or despises the working class Englishman. Come. Sing. Swarm. Wash over us with your chants of Nazi and Pig. Your rhetoric will fade. Our backbone stays.”
Another, Barbara Lowe, said: “Bunch of Hypocrites, you say the EDL is spewing hatred and racism? Try telling that to the British people who are afraid to get on a bus or train in case they get blown to pieces, because you have let this country become full of terrorists!
“We are SICK of living in Fear. Don’t you understand the meaning of Patriotism? It’s what all our fathers fought for.”
The city centre will be open as usual and police are advising local businesses to stay open while they work to make sure there is minimal disruption.