Anti-fascism protesters today mounted a “peace vigil” as the English Defence League (EDL) demonstrated close by on Blackpool Promenade.
The different protests were kept more than a mile apart by police who mounted a huge security operation to ensure public safety. While the larger EDL rally was held near south pier, the smaller anti-fascism rally gathered on the headland by central pier.
Weyman Bennett, national secretary for Unite Against Fascism (UAF), said: “We’re here because we believe these organisations are exploiting a tragedy to politically profit and we want to make it clear we reject racism and fascism and anyone who tries to divide our society. At a time of economic crisis we do not want to see right wing groups attacking people.”
Paul Jenkins, North West organiser for UAF, said the group had support from people across Blackpool. He added: “I think it is very important to say this is not just UAF this is an event supported by local people who have been working with groups to show that the EDL and racism is not welcome in Blackpool.”
Mr Jenkins said the EDL were using the Charlene Downes case as a respectable window dressing for a more sinister agenda. He said: “Undoubtedly they’re trying to exploit a very tragic event for their own agenda and it says a lot about a group who try to exploit such a tragic event. We want everyone to know the EDL are not welcome in Blackpool. Our problems are not caused by race or ethnicity and we will not allow our community to be divided, we will stand united.”
Around 40 people with banners and plaques gathered on the Promenade next to Central Pier to maintain a peaceful vigil. Along with UAF members, a Catholic priest and representatives from the local muslim community attended, as well as Blackpool councillor Mark Mitchell.
Blackpool Muslim representative Tasurraf Shah said: “We all should unite as one, no matter what colour or religion. Our religion – Islam – promotes love and peace and that’s what we should portray. We should be educating people of the true values of Islam. Blackpool’s diverse and has a wonderful culture here, it doesn’t matter what your colour or religion is.”
Coun Mitchell added: “It’s fantastic to be here, we’re doing something for the human spirit. Blackpool’s slogan is ‘it’s a place where difference makes no difference’. It’s deeply disappointing to see groups like the EDL here. It does nothing for tourism and it may lead to an impression that Blackpool is a home for racist hooligans.”