Tensions ran high in Luton on Saturday as English Defence League demonstrators took to the streets following the news four men from the town have been charged with terror offences.
Thousands of EDL members occupied the town, which is the birthplace of the far right group. In anticipation of the march, Unite Against Fascism declared it would mobilise supporters to demonstrate against the EDL.
But many EDL members appeared drunk, leaving a trail of lager cans in their wake, and with one bemused spectator describing police efforts to control the group as "herding kittens".
A coalition of local trade unionists and community groups in Luton organised a counter-demonstration under the name "We Are Luton".
The group, which has won support from the Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber and local MPs, released a statement saying:
"When the EDL came here last year the lives of ordinary citizens were severely disrupted. We do not want this to happen again.
"We urge all decent people in Luton, irrespective of colour, faith or beliefs, to join the peaceful ‘We are Luton’ multicultural celebration."
Despite both sides, who were banned from Luton town centre, claiming they would be marching peacefully, fireworks were set off in Park Street, just outside the town centre, by members of the EDL. There were several reports of scuffles and smoke missiles and bottles being thrown at police.
An update from Luton Borough Council confirmed one arrest had been made, thought to be on the EDL side of the march. There were also reports of medics attending the scene after a man was seen "on the ground".
But Bedfordshire Police sought to reassure the public and tweeted: "People should be reminded police officers are wearing helmets for precaution only. Officers have got everything under control."
Many credited the police with avoiding any violence and took to Twitter to voice their thanks.
The We Are Luton protestors appear to remain calm and orderly throughout the protest.
Richard Howitt, MEP for Bedfordshire, delivered a speech in Wardown Park, where the We Are Luton members started their demonstration.
He said: "There are those visiting and watching Luton today and who have seen it portrayed as a town at war. This is a peaceful, friendly, vibrant town.
"There is something foreign that is unwelcome here. It is a foreign virus that has invaded our body. By calling itself 'English' it cannot disguise that it is foreign. It is a disease that seeks to grow and spread. And like any virus the body itself will reject it, we will show we are immune to its threat and that good health will be restored."
Video provided by Luton News
But many Luton locals refused to be intimidated by the march and simply voiced their concerns the day's events might impede on their bank holiday weekend plans.
While another tweeted: "Dear #LutonProtest please hurry along as I want to go shopping. Ta."
EDL supporters linked Saturday's march with the recent arrests made in the town, tweeting: "Terrorists arrested in Luton last week. Any wonder the EDL is marching?"
On 30 April, Zahid Iqbal, Mohammed Sharfaraz, Syed Hussain, and Umar Arshad, appeared before Westminster Magistrates Court charged with the intention of committing acts of terrorism, or assisting others to commit such acts.
Iqbal was also charged with possessing copies of Inspire, the Al Qaeda magazine, and a publication titled 44 Ways to Support Jihad.
The venue - the Icon Hotel - refused to accommodate the groups, saying they were "not welcome".
UPDATE: Police have confirmed two people have been arrested on suspicion of public order offences. One is from the EDL side, the other from the We Are Luton group. Around 3,000 EDL supporters turned out for the demonstrations, while 1,000 UAF members joined the counter protest.
Bedfordshire's assistant chief constable Andrew Richer said:
"Overall the policing of these protests has been a resounding success and is testament to everyone involved including the community themselves and our partners. It is disappointing that we saw disorder from some members of Unite Against Fascism, who were part of the 'We Are Luton' march, who attempted to break out of the agreed protest route. This shows policing of these events is justified as there is such a large area to protect."
Councillor Hazel Simmons, leader of Luton Borough Council, said: "I was very disappointed that the EDL chose to come to Luton again today so soon after their previous protest in February last year which caused large scale disruption to the people of the town and loss of trade for its businesses.
"I would like to stress that what happened in town today does not represent the real Luton. The Luton I know is a town where people get along well together, celebrate our diversity and work together to overcome challenges."
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