London pro-Palestinian march to proceed, Sunak asks police for safety assurances

Britain's PM Sunak looks at knives and machetes seized from knife attacks in London

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday demanded assurances from London's police chief that a pro-Palestinian march scheduled for Saturday would be held safely, even as police have made nearly 200 hate crime arrests since Hamas militants attacked Israel last month.

Sunak summoned the chief, Commissioner Mark Rowley to explain why he was allowing another pro-Palestinian march to proceed, saying it was "disrespectful" to hold it on Armistice Day, when commemorations are held for those who died in war.

"(Rowley) has said that he can ensure that we safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe," Sunak said. "My job is to hold them accountable for that."

On Tuesday Rowley said protests held in a single location could not be banned, and that outlawing marches required intelligence of a threat of serious disorder. Such bans had not been implemented for a decade, he said.

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, which is organising Saturday's march, has said it would avoid the Cenotaph, London's main war memorial.

But there are fears of violent confrontations as far-right groups have indicated they would protect the Cenotaph after a war memorial in northern England was defaced this week.

Since Oct. 7, London police have made 188 arrests for hate crimes, including 98 for suspected antisemitic offences, 21 for Islamophobic offences and 12 for "faith hate crimes". The rest were for public order offences, many of which were racially aggravated and linked to protests.

"We continue to see a very concerning rise in both antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime," Commander Paul Trevers said. "In some cases, our officers have taken accounts of extremely shocking and hateful abuse as well as acts of violence."

Most of the antisemitic offences were reported in London's Hackney area, home to a large Jewish community.

The Community Security Trust, which advises Britain's Jews on security matters, said it had recorded at least 1,124 antisemitic incidents across Britain since the Hamas attacks, a record number over a 32-day period.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Rod Nickel)