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Hundreds of Thousands March in London for Palestinians

People rally in London on Saturday to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, Nov. 11, 2023.
People rally in London on Saturday to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, Nov. 11, 2023.

More than 300,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through central London on Saturday, with police arresting more than 120 people as they sought to stop far-right counterprotesters from ambushing the main rally.

Skirmishes broke out between police and groups gathered to protest the demonstration taking place on Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, when Britain and other nations commemorate their war dead.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the violence seen at the Cenotaph war memorial and also attacked "Hamas sympathizers" who joined the bigger rally, "singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing on today's protest."

Tensions had been running high before Saturday's march — the biggest in a series to show support for the Palestinians and call for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip — after interior minister Suella Braverman called them "hate marches" led by "mobs."

London's Metropolitan Police had refused ministerial requests to block the event, saying they did not have indications that there would be serious violence, straining relations with the government.

Police said in a statement late on Saturday that they had arrested 126 people so far, the majority of whom were right-wing protesters who formed part of a group several hundred strong that police said included football hooligans.

"The extreme violence from the right-wing protesters towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning," Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said, adding that a knife and brass knuckles were found during searches.

Tension in community

The intense debate about protest and policing in the run-up to the march had raised community tensions, he said.

While the much larger pro-Palestinian rally did not see physical violence, the senior officer said small groups had broken away from the main march, and about 150 people wearing face coverings had fired fireworks that hit officers in the face, leading to arrests.

Investigations into a small number of hate crimes and support for proscribed organization offenses were also ongoing, he said.

Sunak called for the police to take a tough line.

"All criminality must be met with the full and swift force of the law," he said in a statement late on Saturday. "That is what I told the Met Police Commissioner on Wednesday, that is what they are accountable for and that is what I expect."

Skirmishes between police and right-wing protesters continued throughout the day, with police in riot gear using batons to try to contain protesters who threw bottles.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Scotland's first minister, Humza Yousaf, said Braverman had inflamed tensions and emboldened the far-right by accusing the police of favoring "pro-Palestinian mobs" before the event.

Police said more than 300,000 had joined the pro-Palestinian rally, while organizers put the figure at 800,000.

Some marchers chanted "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a rallying cry viewed by many Jews as antisemitic and a call for Israel's eradication.

Others carried banners reading "Free Palestine," "Stop the Massacre" and "Stop Bombing Gaza."

Anger at Hamas, Israeli military

Since Hamas' assault in southern Israel on October 7, there has been strong support and sympathy for Israel from Western governments, including Britain's, and many citizens. But the Israeli military response has also prompted anger, with weekly protests in London demanding a cease-fire.

About 21,000 people took part in a pro-Palestinian rally in Brussels on Saturday, and in Paris, left-wing lawmakers were among some 16,000 protesters who marched with pro-Palestinian banners and flags to call for a cease-fire.

Some French leftist politicians have welcomed President Emmanuel Macron's call this week for a cease-fire and opposition to Israel's bombing campaign.

Senior French lawmakers have called a protest against antisemitism for Sunday.

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