Anger is growing in Preston over the police’s handling of a planned march by the racist English Defence League (EDL) this Saturday. Preston Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the Trades Council called a counter-protest and booked the Flag Market in the city centre as soon as the EDL announced their plans.
But police intervention has meant that the EDL have been allocated this site—close to where the majority of Preston's Asian community live. The police have also been conducting a widespread campaign to stop local people from joining the counter-protest.
A number of community leaders have challenged the behaviour and decisions of the police.
Imam Farook Kazi, director of Al-Ansaar Welfare & Education in Preston, said, “The Muslim community in Preston has enjoyed excellent relations with all sections of the wider community for the past 40 plus years, and I hope and pray this will always be the case. I was born in this city and I am proud to be a Prestonian.
'Although the official statement from Preston City Council is extremely supportive and clearly rejects the ideology of groups such as the EDL. But the Flag Market being given to the EDL despite a previous booking [by UAF] undermines this statement and actually gives 'credibility' to the EDL. I strongly feel that this matter should be thoroughly investigated, as it could set precedence for future events.”
John Browne, Labour councillor for Preston's Brookfield ward, has also criticised the decision saying that he is “angry” that a sizeable part of the population will be unable to use the town centre. He added, “The fact that this week is also Inter- Faith week compounds the disgrace.”
Mukhtar Master, a Muslim community representative, said, “I am delighted by the anti-racist support offered to the community. However, I am puzzled and perplexed as to why Lancashire police have given the EDL the most prominent site for their divisive demonstration. The decision effectively showcases the EDL in our city.”
Activists are mobilising for the largest possible turnout on the counter-protest. Students from the University of Central Lancashire have organised a feeder march from the university to join it.
'We've had an excellent response from university and college students and there will be a good turnout on the day,' said Paul Jenkins, a UAF organiser. “Anti-fascists from across the north west of England are traveling to Preston to join us.”
Michael Lavalette, the independent socialist councillor for Preston's Town Centre Ward, said, 'It is an outrage that a racist demonstration has been given access to the Flag Market and that our anti-racist assembly has been relegated to Birley Street.
'It is vital that we have as big a turnout as possible. We want to show the real, multicultural and anti-racist face of Preston on Saturday. The EDL are not welcome here.'
No to the EDL, no to racism, no to fascism and no to Islamophobia: Saturday 27 November, 12 noon , Preston Fish Market (covered market, Birley St).