A MOB of English Defence League (EDL) protesters were kept apart from anti-fascist groups during a demonstration at the site of a proposed mosque in Sunderland.
Tensions were high and three arrests made in the Millfield area on Saturday afternoon as up to 250 protesters faced each other across a street.
The EDL is demonstrating against plans to build a mosque on the site of an old council depot in St Mark’s Road.
There have been a number of stand-offs in recent months with the city’s Anti Fascist Coalition.
Scores of police lined the streets and cordons were in place to separate the opposing groups.
Gary Duncanson, from the Sunderland Anti Fascist Coalition, said: “These people are only here to stir up racism and hate.
“It’s important to remember the EDL are not part of the community here, very few of them come from Sunderland.
“We want the people of this city to unite against them, to make a stand, to say ‘no’ to fascism, and stop them coming back here.
“The mosque is nothing more than a handy excuse for these people to spread their racist nonsense. We want our demonstration here today to be a small spark that encourages people to stand against them.
“Unfortunately, the EDL have managed to get a little bit of support in the area. What we don’t want is to have a permanent group here. If they get control in Millfield, it will only spread.”
Last week, six men admitted charges at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court after groups clashed at last October’s demonstration.
The anti-fascist marchers made their way from the University’s Murray Library in Chester Road to the site of the proposed mosque, while EDL protesters met in Hylton Road.
Extra officers were drafted in to prevent a repeat of trouble from previous demonstrations, while concerned Millfield residents watched on as members from each side shouted insults across the road.
Chris Howson, a priest at Sunderland Minster, was among the anti-fascist marchers.
He said: “I was actually threatened and told to stay away from this march over Twitter. This only proves these people aren’t just anti-Muslim, they’re anti-Christian as well.”
“The Easter weekend should be a time of peace and I, along with clergy across the city, will be praying for that.” Syed Ali, who has lived in Sunderland for the past 33 years, said he had come along to show the young people of the city that intolerance should not be accepted.
Mr Ali, who says he is a parishioner of mosques across the city, added: “We have a family community here in Sunderland and, until now, everyone has had a good relationship.”
Janet Wilson, 51, from Millfield, watched on as the groups traded insults.
She said: “The people of Millfield have been forgotten about in all of this chaos. Now it’s just about who can shout the loudest.”
A resident of St Marks Road, who asked not to be named, added: “There are people living here who don’t want the mosque here and they should be entitled to their opinion.
“I don’t think this is good for the area, but people are just letting their feelings be known.”
Northumbria Police thanked residents in Millfield for their cooperation.
Sunderland Area Commander, Chief Superintendent Kay Blyth, said: “Whilst the demonstration was peaceful, a minority of people who took part were spoken to by officers and required to remove items of clothing obscuring their faces.”