Gaza protests: Manchester police chief warns that clashes pose ‘risk to wider community’

Manchester’s police chief has waded into the debate over city centre Gaza protests as Baroness Warsi resigns from the cabinet over the Middle Eastern crisis.

Protesters have been gathering outside the Kedem shop on King Street since the conflict escalated, leading to clashes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian supporters.

Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy has asked protesters to consider how they express strong views and ‘recognise the longer term risk to the wider community’.

He said: “While protest is a human right, those involved should recognise the effect these protests have. We must also recognise the effect these protests are having on the wider community living and working in the city centre and the disruption caused to local businesses.

“There is a strong history of protest in Manchester but also a history of people from different races and religions respecting their differences and living peacefully alongside one another.

“We want, and encourage, healthy debate but the experience from past events is that tension in other parts of the world allow some to justify attacks against individuals, businesses or places of worship and this has affected various minority communities.”

Sir Peter’s statement was followed this morning by Baroness Warsi announcing her resignation from the cabinet over the Government’s stance on the conflict which has seen 1,800 people lose their lives in the conflict over the last four weeks.  

In her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, Warsi wrote that Britain’s support for Israeli military action against Hamas ‘is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation’.

Warsi was the first female Muslim cabinet minister when David Cameron took office in 2010.

The former Conservative Party chair was moved to the post of Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the September 2012 reshuffle and made Minister for Faith and Communities at the same time.

The Prime Minister outlined his stance on the ongoing Gaza conflict on July 14 – six days after Israel mounted airborne attacks.

He said: “It is a concerning situation but we should be very clear about two things: one is that Hamas has been firing rockets continually into Israel and secondly, Israel has a right to defend itself as a sovereign country that’s been under attack.”

A ceasefire between Israel and Palestine agreed in Egypt yesterday evening could potentially defuse tensions in Manchester over the coming days.

Israel is currently pulling troops out of Gaza claiming that their military objectives to destroy Hamas tunnels has been achieved.

GMP have been consulting with Manchester City Council regarding a response to the recent protests.

Sir Peter said: “The protests have also highlighted a very real issue about how best to strike that delicate balance between the right to protest and the potential damage to the residential and business community in the city centre.

“And whether there are other means for people to express what are clearly very strong and emotional views rather than targeting one individual shop.

“We as an organisation have to balance the powers we have to impose certain conditions on where people can protest and for how long with that fundamental democratic right to protest.

“We must always be asking ourselves in what circumstances the law actually allows us to impose these powers and whether or not it will either improve the situation or make it worse.”

And Fahy insisted that, by opening a two-way communication with protestors, police can manage the protests peacefully.  

“Experience has taught us that the best way to manage demonstrations is through negotiation and dialogue with the protestors and I must stress that my officers have done a good job in challenging circumstances,” he said.

“Officers are monitoring closely the activities of those involved in this protest and will fully investigate anyone we suspect is breaching the criminal law.”

Sir Fahy’s latest statement makes a clear break from the sensationalist statements made by Manchester City Council Leader Sir Richard Leese, who said: “We cannot support the use of language that would not have been out of place in 1930s Germany.

“[The council] cannot support Manchester businesses, their staff and their customers being subject to abuse and intimidation as they attempt to go about their ordinary, everyday lives.”

His comments were condemned by protesters who argued that the protests were simply a response to the conflict which has seen many lives lost.

Scott Anderson, a member of the Boycott Kedem movement, said: “He linked us publicly with anti-Semitism and it makes people think that we are a platform for those kinds of views – which we are not.

“The more serious incidents of such behaviour happened only after Richard Leese’s comments. Those people were ejected from the protest and reported to the police.”

The activist also called on other Mancunians to join his cause.

He added: “How far should you sit back in the world and let this happen? International pressure isn’t enough. There needs to be a groundswell of public opinion.”

Image courtesy of GM Police via Youtube with thanks

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