Leaders from Peterborough Trades Union Council (PTUC) have said they are marching to celebrate the unity and diversity of the city.
More than 40 people attended a public meeting held by the PTUC at the Town Hall last night to hear its reasons for holding a counter-march when the English Defence League (EDL) takes to the streets on Saturday afternoon. It comes as police confirmed that more than 250 local officers will take part in patrols of the city centre on the day.
The meeting heard from guest speakers: Harmesh Lakhanpaul, former Peterborough Racial Equality Council (PREC) director, Ghulam Shabbir, chairman of Peterborough Pakistan Community Association and Richard Rose, Cambridge branch coordinator of Unite Against Fascism.
Mr Lakhanpaul said the EDL were “dangerous”, with 55,000 supporters on social networking website Facebook and some of its previous marches resulting in violence. He said: “The EDL poses the greatest threat to community cohesion in Britain especially in areas that have had problems in the past. By demonstrating in those areas they seek a reaction from the local Muslim community which can lead to a new cycle of violence. It doesn’t take a very large number of people to come and provoke other people.”
He called for the march on Saturday to not be the end of the PTUC’s work, saying members should concentrate on lobbying the Home Office to ban future EDL marches and engage with those who have signed the Interfaith Statement at the Cathedral on Sunday.
Mr Shabbir claimed that consultation undertaken by the police and Peterborough City Council with various groups, including Muslim youths, had in his view portrayed the PTUC as troublemakers and aimed to keep people away from the counter-march. He said: “What they are saying is if you join the demonstration then you are going to cause the EDL to react negatively and if there is any trouble then it is you that is causing it and not the EDL.”
He criticised those who signed the Interfaith Statement, which does not condemn the EDL. He added: “If they are so for community cohesion why are people so afraid of coming out and saying ‘we are getting together against the EDL and condemn what they stand for’?”.
The PTUC march will start at 12 noon at Bishop’s Road car park, move along Rivergate and then arrive at the Key Theatre for its rally of live music and poetry from 1pm to 4pm.
There will also be guest speakers including Labour MEP for East of England Richard Howitt, PTUC president Ron Graves, Labour Parliamentary spokesman for Peterborough Ed Murphy and Adrian Clarke, Fire Brigades Union East of England regional secretary.