SEVEN far right protesters were arrested during a heated protest that took over parts of Portsmouth today.
The English Defence League supporters – being quizzed on suspicion of crimes ranging from public order offences to assaulting a police officer – are among about 500 people who descended on the city.
Two counter protesters who took part in a demonstration in Guildhall Square were also arrested but released without charge at the scene, Hampshire Constabulary said.
Police who spent weeks gearing up for the protest ramped up the operation after tempers flared following the end of the march.
Moments after the protest ended in Edinburgh Road, riot vans were called to Guildhall Square as some EDL supporters tried to get at a group of about 150 counter-protesters.
Two vans blocked the entrance to the square where it meets Isambard Brunel Road and dozens of officers in high-visibility jackets formed a human barrier to stop the two rival factions from clashing.
The groups hurled abuse at each other and some EDL protesters tried to force their way through – but failed.
One man climbed a tree in front of the police cordon to shout insults.
Mounted officers from Thames Valley Police were also drafted in and police managed to quell the volatile situation.
Superintendent Rick Burrows, who led Operation Buscot, said: ‘They stuck to the procession route we had agreed with them.
‘The contingency plan was to block access to Guildhall Square and yes, we did have to push people back to prevent confrontation, but that was easily delivered using the mounted section.’
A short while earlier officers had managed to stop protesters who tried to break away in Isambard Brunel Road from grabbing hold of scaffolding on a truck parked nearby.
Vans and officers also blocked the road at the roundabout with Greetham Street, forcing them to turn back.
The flashpoint came after police escorted English Defence League supporters from all over the country who turned out for the first protest of its kind in Hampshire.
Edinburgh Road was shut from its junctions with Anglesea Road and Alfred Road to its junction with Stanhope Road and Unicorn Road from about 10am as police mounted Operation Buscot.
About 200 officers were drafted in to police the march – and escorted placard-bearing protesters with flags and banners from the start point at Edinburgh Road, past The Hard and back up Park Road and Anglesea Road to the start point where speeches where given.
Some protesters chanted. But others shouted racist abuse as the marchers were guided along the agreed route by EDL stewards and police.
However despite having to hold protesters back after they tried to surge forward at the start of the march, they were safely escorted for the remainder of the route.
Superintendent Rick Burrows said: ‘It’s gone 90 per cent to plan. All plans have to build in flexibility .
‘The 10 per cent that didn’t is probably the initial policing of the procession when it set off, which required [police] holding them back and re-setting it.
‘We had asked the EDL stewards to do that and it looked like they didn’t have the resilience to do that so we had to play catch-up and do it ourselves.’
‘The engagement with the protest organisers from both sides was very positive.
‘It’s about having a proportionate and appropriate numbers – you have also got to bear in mind policing of the whole of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.’