UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday condemned “racist thuggery” during protests after far-right activists clashed with police in London.
Hundreds of far-right protesters gathered in the city’s Parliament Square despite strict police restrictions and warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.
Different groups came to the UK capital, saying they wanted to guard historical monuments that have been targeted in the past week by anti-racism protesters.
“Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking the police will be met with the full force of the law,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
“These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines. Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality,” he wrote.
Also Saturday, a Black Lives Matter protester carried to safety a man identified by the crowd as a far-right demonstrator during clashes in London.
A photograph published by the Reuters news agency showed the black demonstrator carrying on his shoulder a white man holding his head, with other protesters behind them and police in riot gear to their sides.
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 13, 2020
The injured protester had been beaten in front of the Royal Festival Hall in London before other anti-racism demonstrators rescued him, Reuters reported.
During Saturday’s clashes, some threw bottles and cans at officers, while riot police on horses pushed the crowd back. The protesters, who appeared to be mostly white men, chanted “England” and sang the national anthem.
Six police officers suffered minor injuries during the violence and over 100 people were arrested, The Telegraph reported.
Many of the right-wing supporters gathered around the statue of Churchill and the Cenotaph war memorial, which both were boarded up Friday to protect them from vandalism.
“I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments,” Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, told the Press Association.
A Black Lives Matter group in London called off a demonstration planned for Saturday, saying the presence of the counter-protesters would make it unsafe. Some anti-racism demonstrators gathered in smaller numbers in the capital.
Monuments around the world have become flash points in demonstrations against racism and police violence after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck.
Johnson on Friday defended a statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill that was vandalized by anti-racist protesters, condemned violence during demonstrations and called on the public to “stay away from these protests.”
Churchill “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial,” Johnson said.
Churchill, subject of a 2014 biography written by Johnson, was Britain’s wartime prime minister, leading the country in World War II against the Nazis.
In Britain, the protests have triggered a national debate about the legacy of empire and its role in the slave trade. A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled from its plinth by protesters in the city of Bristol on Sunday and dumped in the harbor. In London, Churchill’s statue was daubed with the words “was a racist.”
Police imposed strict restrictions on Saturday’s protests in a bid to avoid violent clashes. Authorities also fenced off other statues in Parliament Square, including memorials to Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
Police Commander Bas Javid urged people not to gather in large groups at all because of the coronavirus. But if they must, he said activists have to stick to the planned route and be off the streets by 5 p.m. or risk arrest.
He said that while protesters last weekend were largely peaceful, a minority was “intent on disorder” and that resulted in assaults on police and violent behavior.
Dozens were arrested last weekend, and a police horse was pictured bolting past the crowds amid the chaos.