A controversial protest by right wing group the English Defence League (EDL) has passed off peacefully amid a huge police presence.
The rally had been billed with the slogan “Back to Where It All Began” but the demonstration in Luton – the town where the group was founded – petered out without major incident.
The centre of Luton resembled a ghost town before the rally with many shops and pubs opting to close rather than risk becoming a target for protesters.
Around 2,000 EDL supporters, some from far-flung corners of Europe, gathered in the town’s St George’s Square for speeches.
At the same time around 1,000 supporters of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) assembled in nearby Park Square for a counter demonstration.
A massive police operation was under way to keep the two sides apart, with more than 1,000 officers on the streets at a cost of more than £800,000.
EDL supporters brandished banners with the slogan “No more mosques”, while others chanted “Muslim bombers off our streets.”
The demonstration was taking place just hours after Prime Minster David Cameron delivered a speech in Munich in which he declared that multiculturalism had failed in the UK and he called for a “muscular liberalism” that challenges Islamist extremism more forcefully.
EDL founder Stephen Lennon, 28, told the crowd: “There are no racial tensions in Luton, just religious tensions.” The EDL protesters were branded “racist thugs” by Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who spoke at the counter rally.
Police said 19 people received medical treatment, 16 of them were members of the public or protesters – all injuries are classed as minor. Some were due to sprained ankles or falling over. Three were police officers, all with minor injuries and none thought to be as a result of assaults.