PROTESTERS who donned balaclavas and threw coins during aggressive scenes in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square have been told: ‘You have no place in our city’.
Leaders have condemned the actions of some of the anti-Muslim protesters who marched through the streets and shouted profanities.
Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, branded some of the behaviour ‘thuggish’, while city council leader Donna Jones questioned the cost to the public purse of policing such marches.
Only one arrest was made during Saturday’s march, but there were unpleasant scenes as people in balaclavas shouted swear words from the steps of the Guildhall.
Members of the English Defence League joined other protesters, which began in Lake Road, Landport where the Muslim Madani Academy is to be based.
There were angry scenes outside the city’s mosque as police had to form a dividing line between around 40 protesters and a handful of anti-fascist campaigners.
Philippa Pettitt, 57, a teacher who lives in Southsea, stood behind the police cordon and was sworn at by members of the EDL.
She refused to stand back.
Mrs Pettitt, a member of Unite Against Fascism, said: ‘I was so angry because it is just pure hatred against anyone who is not white.
‘This is about hatred against race, not about a school.
‘It is not about Islam. I will stand up against anyone who hates someone because of their skin colour.
‘No-one stands up for Isil here but this is being used as an excuse. This is how Nazism starts.’
While some of the protesters were peaceful and made their voices heard, a group gathered on a balcony of Portsmouth City Council offices and threw coins on to anti-fascist campaigners below. No-one was hurt.
But Ms Mordaunt was appalled by the behaviour.
She said: ‘Any organisation which has to don balaclavas in order to protest is suspicious.
‘People do not want to see that kind of intimidation on our streets.
‘This is not the first time that the EDL have abused that tradition of free speech. They have been extremely unpleasant and aggressive towards the city’s mosque.’
She said the balaclava-wearing protesters were ‘basically cowards’.
She added: ‘I don’t think there’s been a peaceful, mature protest by EDL in our city.
‘They have always caused grief and left criminal damage.
‘To people who come as balaclava-clad thugs on our streets, we need to send a clear message that if they want to come and express their views, they need to do it in a way that is appropriate.
‘When we are looking to approve future rallies we really need to look at the behaviour of organisations.’
The protesters had planned to march along Albert Road, but this was prevented by police due to the large number of Asian businesses along the route.
Cllr Jones said she believed in freedom of speech and applauded Hampshire Constabulary for policing the march and making sure no violence erupted.
She added: ‘I think Portsmouth is a tolerant place to live.
‘Unfortunately we have one or two strong members of EDL that attract people from the round the south of England for these type of marches.’
Luthfur Rahman, director of The Madani Academy, was keen to point out the school was not Muslim-only – an accusation made by many of the protesters.
He told The News: ‘It is wrong to say that The Madani Academy is a Muslim-only school.
‘In common with other faith schools in England, we are an inclusive school and welcome children from all backgrounds and abilities as clearly stated in our admissions policy.’
Mohammad Mukith, the former president of Portsmouth Central Mosque, said opening a religious school was nothing new.
‘There are schools for Jewish people, schools for Catholic people,’ he said.
‘Everything they are doing is according to the law of the country and the local education authority.
‘Isil has nothing to do with Islam. They are fanatics. We do not support them or agree with what they are doing.’
A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said: ‘We have a responsibility to help ensure public demonstrations are safe, peaceful and lawful.
‘Disruption to Portsmouth was kept to a minimum on Saturday during a specific policing operation, which included extra high-visibility patrols by specialist officers from our Joint Operations Unit.
‘One man, aged in his 40s from the Portsmouth area, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence. He is being questioned in police custody.
‘No injuries and no other crimes have been reported.’
Anti-fascist campaigners were resolute in their message and outnumbered the protesters.
Jenny Flintoft, 71, from Rowlands Castle, said: ‘It’s clear race hatred – and it shouldn’t be happening.
‘They are not understanding what Islam is about, a peaceful religion.
‘We know that Isil are terrorists but that has nothing to do with the mosque here – the people here are peaceful.’
One member of the Jami mosque, who asked not to be named, said: ‘Somehow we are living in the 21st century but there are still groups of people like this in our society.
‘British people are so generous to us and there is only a small group of people who have come here. It is a small group of radical people.’
Jon Woods, chairman of Portsmouth Trades Council, said: ‘Their turnout was pretty poor.
‘It shows their ideas are not representative of the people of Portsmouth.
‘We are a multicultural city and there is no room for racism or islamaphobia.
‘We have had about 100 people come to show solidarity and stand up to these people.’
Simon Magorian, who runs Unite Against Fascism in the city, said the group had around 48 hours to organise a counter protest and about 100 people turned up.
He said: ‘Every time they do this and try to stir things up and create tensions about the disgraceful behaviour of Isil. Nobody agrees with what is happening.
‘This was full of people shouting “EDL”. I think this is all that is left of the EDL. We have to get out and say they don’t represent Portsmouth.
‘Muslims are hardly taking over this city.
‘The EDL wanted to go down Albert Road and we are glad they were not allowed. It is a hub of Asian businesses around there.’
He added: ‘We are Portsmouth and they are not.
‘We are the ones who represent the city.’