UK's anti-EU party cites safety fears as leader skips diversity event

LONDON Tue May 20, 2014 1:22pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Tuesday canceled a planned appearance at an event designed to counter charges his party was racist because of concerns about his safety, party officials said.

Most polls show UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and to end "open door" immigration, is on course to come first or second in elections to the European Parliament on Thursday.

But several left-leaning lawmakers have accused the party of racism after Nigel Farage, UKIP's leader, gave an interview last Friday in which he said that people would be worried if a group of Romanian men moved in next door. He had previously cited concerns about crimes committed by immigrants from Romania.

Farage's comments sparked a media backlash, including from right-leaning newspapers that have traditionally been critical of what they say are the government's lax immigration controls.

UKIP, which took out a full-page national newspaper advert on Monday to say it wasn't racist, organized an event in London on Tuesday aimed at showcasing its ethnic diversity and countering the racism charge. {ID:nL6N0O52WV]

However, it ended in disarray after the leader of the steel band hired to play the street party said he thought UKIP was racist and protesters carrying anti-UKIP placards heckled the speakers.

Winston McKenzie, a UKIP candidate attending the event, said Farage had been right to cancel his appearance.

"When I saw the way some people were behaving, I 100 percent agreed with Mr. Farage," McKenzie told the area's local newspaper, the Croydon Advertiser.

Farage has said he is forced to campaign with bodyguards because of what he perceives as threatening behavior from anti-fascism groups and protesters.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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