THE prime minister must step in and decide now whether the door should be shut on asylum seekers coming to Portsmouth to stop the city being thrown into chaos.
That is the desperate plea from community leaders as far right and pro-refugee protest groups clashed on the streets over the controversial issue.
Ugly scenes unfolded in the city centre as fascists attempted to blockade pro-asylum campaigners marching in support of desperate families being allowed to set up a new life in the region.
The protestors chanted and held a huge pro-asylum banner as they walked from Guildhall Square to Commercial Road as shoppers looked on.
Scores of police swarmed around both groups to stop fights breaking out but some officers were shoved in a scuffle.
They formed a line in front of both groups to ensure things didn’t kick off further.
The government must make a decision one way or another over what it will do regarding the asylum seekers crisis, or we will see more of this chaos and the flash points far more often.Councillor Aiden Gray, Portsmouth deputy Labour group leader
Tensions have been high on both sides of the political divide since the council decided to pursue a bid to get Portsmouth removed as a ‘cluster area’ taking in asylum families.
But now pleas have been made for an immediate resolution for the sake of the city’s reputation.
Speaking at a meeting of the full council after the protests, Councillor Aiden Gray, deputy Labour group leader, said: ‘There is a vacuum of evidence at the moment about strong decision making.
‘The government must make a decision one way or another over what it will do regarding the asylum seekers crisis, or we will see more of this chaos and the flash points far more often.
‘That is something which must come down from the prime minister; he needs to show his hand and tell us what he will do.’
Former University of Portsmouth student Mario Oliveros, 24, who led the pro-refugee march, stood by the decision to protest.
He said: ‘It was scary and intimidating, but we have done the right thing and have been willing to put up with the backlash.
‘There are going to be racists out there not supporting the message that refugees are not welcome. But people are struggling and dying every day.’
Stand up to Racism campaigner Jon Woods, who gave a speech from the steps of the Guildhall, said: ‘We are still dismayed by the council’s decision.
‘Local politics has stepped into the gutter. Politicians make policies and those policies have consequences on the streets.
‘Decisions like this can create a culture of racism.’
Lib Dem campaigner Steve Pitt, who was caught up in the protests, said: ‘The council motion that was passed achieved absolutely nothing apart from to polarise sections of our community.’
But Tory council leader Donna Jones blamed pro-asylum campaigners for stirring up trouble and wasting police time.
Cllr Jones said: ‘The march was unnecessary.
‘This is an over-the-top reaction which has cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and the time of in excess of 50 police officers.
They should be around the city tackling crime, keeping communities safe.
‘I would urge the organisers to rethink their strategy going forward.’
Far-right protestors – believed to be members of a street group called the Pie and Mash Squad – declined to comment.
A police statement said officers were on hand to provide a ‘proportionate response’ to the protest, ensure that protesters could demonstrate peacefully and lawfully, and that the interests of the community were met.