Greater Manchester Police are to cap the number of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protestors to groups of ten from this Saturday.
Since 19 July, GMP has had a daily presence on King Street to facilitate the protest of both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators.
However what started out as peaceful protests have taken on a more sinister twist in recent weeks, with tensions becoming increasingly heated and reports of members from the English Defence League joining proceedings, as MM reported on Wednesday.
From tomorrow, GMP will impose conditions on protesters that will include maximising the number of protesters at any one time to ten, and moving the site to a designated protest area on Police Street, due to protests proving to be ‘disruptive’.
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, said: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly.
“The right to protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, a right fully supported by the police and city council.
“One of Manchester’s strengths is its diversity and we know that conflicts around the world often provoke strong emotions within our communities.
“It is only right and proper that people can protest about what is happening abroad safely and peacefully should they wish to.”
A statement from GMP states that they ‘believe in free speech’ and ‘support the fundamental human right to demonstrate’.
They pointed to last year’s austerity protests, where 50,000, people took to the streets in one of the biggest protests the city has ever known.
“We have shown great patience in facilitating the protests but it is the cumulative impact of the daily protests – which is causing significant disruption to the business community on and around King Street and has led to members of our communities experiencing concern, fear and intimidation – that has now exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act,” the statement said.
GMP says the new rules will be enforced daily and will be under constant review.
Sir Peter said the force will continue to work with civic and faith leaders and with local community groups to ensure the important issues behind the Middle East conflicts can be properly debated in the city in a way that ‘does not cause serious disruption or endanger community cohesion’.
“Protests such as this, which polarise views, are emotive and present difficult challenges for all involved,” he said.
“And while we will not shy away from these challenges, we have to balance our duty to uphold the rights of protestors against the rights of the public visiting and working in the city centre, local business owners and residents.
“Weighing up all factors, we hope that by imposing these conditions we are finding some common ground and ensuring fairness to everybody.
“It is important to stress that failure to comply with the conditions is a criminal offence and could result in arrest.”
Councillor Bernard Priest, Manchester City Council’s deputy leader, has backed the decision, saying that a decision had to be made in the interests of those affected in the area around the protests.
“While we understand that many people are deeply concerned about events in the Middle East, we do not want to see those events affect communities and families here in Manchester,” he said
“Our city has a proud history of tolerance and mutual respect between different communities, and we cannot stand by and watch divisions and tensions be created.
“We have tried to protect people’s right to protest but these demonstrations have had an impact on people who have absolutely nothing to do with events in the Middle East.
“Shops on Kings Street, as well as members of the public who are trying to go about their day to day business, have been affected by the protests and unfortunately we have now had to place some limited restrictions on the protests to manage the impact on the daily lives of ordinary citizens.”
Image courtesy of Steve Spy, via YouTube, with thanks.