x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Poor turnout for UK right wing rallies over British soldier murder

Low attendance underscores the position of the English Defence League and British National Party as fringe elements. Omar Karmi reports from London

Members of the British National Party hold placards during a demonstration in central London on Saturday. AP Photo
Members of the British National Party hold placards during a demonstration in central London on Saturday. AP Photo

LONDON // The far-right's attempt to mobilise countrywide public demonstrations yesterday over the fatal stabbing of a British soldier drew mostly poor responses and, in London, a bigger turnout from their opponents.

The low turnout will be a blow to both the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP), which appeared to have revived their dwindling support following the attack on Lee Rigby outside his barracks in Woolwich in south London on May 22.

The EDL drew record numbers to its demonstrations as fears about radical Islamist violence were rekindled by the killing, with the two men charged, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, claiming it was to avenge Muslim deaths abroad at the hands of the British army. Mr Adebowale and Mr Adebolajo have both been charged with murder.

In central London yesterday, less than 50 BNP supporters turned out in front of the British parliament at Westminster for what was supposed to have been a 500-metre march to a nearby cenotaph for Britain's war dead.

A far larger counter demonstration by anti-fascist groups, left-wingers and unions put paid to the idea. Instead, BNP supporters found themselves penned in behind a line of police, separating them from several hundred people chanting "fascist scum, off our streets" at them.

A few skirmishes broke out, mostly when the odd BNP supporter tried to join or leave the demonstration.

The demonstration had originally been planned for Woolwich, but police decided on Friday to re-route the march to Westminster for public order reasons.

The EDL had expected to hold more than 50 "silent walks" to war memorials across England. Many went ahead but were largely small events, attracting dozens rather than hundreds.

On Friday, Rigby's family urged calm, and said he would "not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others".

Yesterday, Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, headed a long list of celebrities and public figures who put their signatures to an open letter in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, decrying the use of Rigby's murder to promote extremist agendas.

"The fair-minded majority of Britons understand that a community cannot be blamed for the actions of just two. We know that the EDL does not speak for all Britain, just as we know that Muslim extremists do not speak for all Muslims," the letter said.