LONDON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Police in London have ordered Black Lives Matter and other demonstrators to clear the streets by 5pm (12am Singapore time) to avoid a repeat of clashes with the authorities and head off possible conflicts with right-wing activists.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have taken to Twitter to urge people not to attend demonstrations after reports that right-wing groups planned to descend on the city.
One of the UK’s main Black Lives Matter groups said it would no longer support a planned anti-racism protest to avoid possible clashes, and Mr Khan ordered statues of historic figures like Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela to be boarded up.
“We have intelligence that extreme far right groups are coming to London ostensibly, they say, to protect the statues, but we think the statues may be a flashpoint for violence,” Mr Khan said on BBC Radio.
He also said that people should not join demonstrations during the coronavirus pandemic, as there was evidence from the United States that those attending them had caught the virus.
Mr Johnson also urged people to stay away from central London, but said it was “absurd and shameful” to cover the Churchill statue in Parliament Square. “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past,” he said.
The statue of World War II leader Churchill outside Parliament was sprayed with graffiti last week after what had been a mostly peaceful demonstration over the death of George Floyd, an African American who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The premier said social justice protests in Britain in the wake of Mr Floyd’s killing have been been hijacked by a “growing minority” who are using them “as a pretext to attack the police to cause violence, and to cause damage to public property”.
The presence of right-wing groups looking to confront social justice demonstrators and protect some statues is fuelling the risk of further violence.
More than 60 police officers have been injured in clashes with anti-racism protesters in recent weeks and there have been more than 130 arrests, the Press Association reported, citing the National Police Chiefs’ Council.