UK police arrest 48 as far right, opponents clash

MANCHESTER, England Sat Oct 10, 2009 4:22pm EDT

1 of 8. A police officer watches demonstrators during a protest by the English Defence League in Manchester, northern England, October 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble

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MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Police arrested 48 men during skirmishes between a far-right group and opponents in the northern English city of Manchester on Saturday.

Supporters of the English Defense League, a new group which stages street protests against what it terms "radical Islam," clashed with anti-racism campaigners from Unite Against Fascism.

Around 2,000 rival protesters congregated in the Piccadilly Gardens area of the city center. The two groups were mainly kept apart by a line of police in riot helmets and anyone trying to break through the cordon was led away.

Most of those arrested were held on suspicion of public order offences, police said. One person suffered minor injuries but did not require hospital treatment.

Police eventually herded the English Defense League supporters out of the area and put them on double-decker buses to take them out of the city center. Their rivals were forced away in the opposite direction.

"The presence of so many protesters in the city has proved a challenge and while many have turned out to protest peacefully the police reaction has been necessary in order to prevent the few hell-bent on violent confrontation," Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said in a statement.

Police described many of those arrested as "agitators and trouble-makers."

The English Defense League sprang up this year after a small group from a local Muslim community staged a protest in the southern town of Luton against soldiers returning from Iraq.

The far right has made political progress this year, with the British National Party winning two seats in the European parliament.

Experts on community relations fear a rise in tensions between working class whites and immigrant communities could lead to further violence in the run-up to an election due by next June.

(Writing by Keith Weir in London)

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