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EDL members gather for protest in Bradford city centre
Around 200 supporters of the English Defence League have gathered outside the Queen pub in Bridge Street in Bradford city centre ahead of their planned demonstration.
As they arrived this morning, they were greeted by grey skies and a persistent drizzle which, along with road closures and a heavy police presence, has left the city centre quieter than usual for one of the key shopping days of the week.
Police barricades were set up, enclosing the area of Bridge Street where the EDL demonstration is to take place.
Dozens of police officers were on duty, with more than 20 police video vans and teams of police horses.
Apart from an occasional aggressive EDL chant, there has been little activity so far.
The counter-demonstration at Urban fields, organised by We Are Bradford, largely made up of United Against Fascism members, has so far attracted only a few dozen people.
Meanwhile, community leaders hailed Bradford’s diverse communities for uniting to spread a message of peace on the eve of the EDL's demonstration.
More than 1,000 people from different religions and backgrounds gathered in Centenary Square yesterday for a day-long vigil, where more than 2,500 green ribbons were given out as a symbol of peace.
Many of those ribbons could be seen tied to landmarks around the city centre, where protestors from the EDL are expected to gather in the city centre this afternoon.
The event organised by Bradford Together – a banner organisation consisting of groups including Bradford Women for Peace, Bradford Muslim Women’s Council, Unison, Bradford TUC and HOPE Not Hate – also saw hundreds of people write poignant messages on a giant ‘Wall of Peace’.
The leader of Bradford Council, Coun David Green, who has urged people not to be provoked by the EDL, or a counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism, commended organisers for giving people in the city the chance to have their say on the planned protest.
“The event was intended to allow different people to get involved in protesting against the EDL’s message of hate and has been successful by giving people concerned about the protest the opportunity to express their views peacefully,” he said.
“We expect to have a city centre open as usual and that people will show their defiance by going about their day as normal.”
Chief Superintendent Simon Atkin, Bradford South divisional commander for West Yorkshire Police, said the celebration of peace and unity showed the ‘maturity’ of people across the district.
He said: “People of Bradford from all walks of life have come together to state their concerns surrounding the EDL and what they stand for in a peaceful way.
“Their response shows the maturity of Bradfordians, which people outside Bradford might not get or expect to see.
“I’m quite certain people will leave the police to police the protest and go about their day doing the things they would normally do on a Saturday.”
The Bishop of Bradford, the Rev Nick Baines, was one of a number of clerics from different religions at the event, which included candle-lit multi-faith silent prayers.
“Today people are occupying this space and saying ‘this is ours’,” he said.
“People from outside Bradford, from both organisations, UAF and the EDL, will be shouting off on our territory.
“Why should we be driven by a narrative that comes from other people? This is our space.
“Today is the people of Bradford saying ‘the narrative we want is one of peace’.”
During the afternoon, hundreds of people could be seen stopping in the city centre park to pick up green ribbons, with some writing messages of peace in colourful chalk on the ground.
One said ‘we want peace’, while another, next to a giant drawing of a tree, said ‘we choose to grow’.
Close by, a giant ‘Wall of Peace’ was filled with postcards with messages of unity written by passers-by, including Samantha Curran, 34, of Wrose.
She said: “I didn’t realise this was happening today, but it’s been a good opportunity for people to say what they think about the protest.
“I’m proud to live in Bradford and want it to be peaceful, which is what I’ve written.”
Paul Meszaros, of Bradford Together, said thousands of cards had been handed out over the course of the day, with one message from children in care in Bradford reading: ‘Everybody should be treated equally. They should feel safe and welcome in Bradford’.
He said: “People are spreading the message that they want Bradford to be peaceful. The wall has allowed people to give their views in a safe space and in a dignified way.
“There are many different messages, some simply saying ‘peace’.
“We hope this is the message that will prevail – that Bradford people do not want hatred in their city.
“That message is crystal clear.”
People from across the Bradford community could be seen at the event, including councillors, business leaders and West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson.
There was also street theatre on offer – with giant human flamingos and a camel – as well as food made by Bradford College students.
Bana Gora, of Bradford Women for Peace, said the vigil showed Bradfordians were “a proud bunch of people”.
“They are sending out a strong message to the EDL that they should go away and we don’t want them here.
“That we love our city and cherish our diverse communities.
“Everyone we’ve spoken to today has been so positive. People have been very inquisitive, asking what the green ribbons are all about and wanting to know more about what is happening.
“Today has shown that men and women from different communities and faiths are united in peace.”
Selina Ullah, director of Bradford Muslim Women’s Council, added: “I think there’s been a fantastic response to the event, people have really shown us what they think.
“People love the city and want it to be peaceful by writing their messages of peace and wearing green ribbons.
”We’ve seen people of all colours, religions, from different walks of life.
“There have been some really touching messages. One person wrote ‘thank you Bradford for accepting me’.
“The overall message we’ve been getting from people is they think the protest is a waste of public resources.”
Ratna Lachman, director of JUST West Yorkshire, said the event had “exceeded all expectations”.
She said: “Bradfordians have shown they are intent on having a day filled with peace.
“People who are young, old, disabled and able-bodied have all come and taken a ribbon as a message of peace.
“I think the last protest in 2010 made a lot of people think Bradford was a divided community, but since then Bradfordians have come together. They have said ‘if there’s a problem in our community we will deal with it as a district and a community’.”
There will be updates throughout the day on the Council and West Yorkshire Police Twitter feeds using the hashtag #demobradford.