More than 1000 police officers have been deployed in an English town as a far-right group and anti-fascist protesters faced off in rival demonstrations.
Officers formed cordons to separate about 3000 supporters of the English Defence League from hundreds of members of left-wing group Unite Against Fascism and Muslim organisations in Luton, a working-class town near London with a history of racial tension. Pubs were closed to prevent drunken trouble.
The English Defence League says it is a non-racist group set up to oppose the spread of militant Islam. But at previous demonstrations its members have clashed with police, chanted anti-Muslim slogans and made Nazi salutes. One banner at Saturday's march read 'No more mosques'.
Luton, 50 kilometres northwest of London, is a town of 200,000 with a large Muslim population and an unwanted reputation as a hotbed of extremism. There have been several terrorism arrests in the town in recent years, and it was the home of Taimour Abdulwahab, an Iraqi-born Swede who blew himself up in a Stockholm shopping street in December.
The protest took place on the day Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech at a security conference in Germany saying Britain and other European countries had been too tolerant of both Islamic extremism and far-right extremists.
In a statement responding to Cameron's speech, the local council and police said that in Luton there was only 'a tiny handful of people - of a variety of backgrounds - who have a message of extremism and hate.
'But in Luton, most of us aim to live in harmony and we do just that most of the time,' it said.