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BLM protest leader demands talks with UK PM

June 20, 2020

Large crowds have turned out in several British cities to protest against racism and police violence. Activists are demanding the country faces up to its own history of slave trading, colonialism and inequality.

BLM protesters in London
Image: Reuters/H. Nicholls

Hundreds of people joined Black Lives Matter protests across Britain on Saturday, marking the fourth weekend of anti-racism demonstrations in a row.

Large rallies were underway in Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and the capital, London, where activists gathered in Hyde Park.

"We are all here today because we know that black lives matter," Imarn Ayton, one of the protest organizers, told the crowd. "And we are all here today because we know that it is time to burn down institutional racism.''

British campaigners have been staging protests since the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of police in the US city of Minneapolis last month.

Although the gatherings have been largely peaceful, clashes between rival groups of right-wing counterprotesters and anti-racism activists have erupted at some events. 

Earlier this week, members of the far-right attacked a refugee-rights gathering in Glasgow, while in London far-right activists and protesters clashed with police. 

Read more: EU declares 'Black Lives Matter,' condemns racism

Coronavirus concerns 

Police in London reported Saturday that they had made dozens of arrests at recent protests and charged 24 people with offenses including assault, criminal damage and breaking social distancing rules. 

Authorities have been urging people to stay home and observe coronavirus restrictions, which currently prevent more than six people from attending a gathering.

 "We remain in a health pandemic," Metropolitan Police Commander Alex Murray said. "We value democracy and the right for people to have a voice, but would ask people to do so in another way, and not come to London to demonstrate."

Calls for a conversation

Among the activists' demands is that the UK faces up to its own history of slave trading, colonialism and racial inequality. Black Lives Matter London rejected calls from the police to end the protests, saying that the UK was "far from innocent, and therefore we must persist by reminding this country and government that Black Lives Matter."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to set up a commission to address racial inequality, but critics say they want more urgent action. Protest leader Imarn Ayton, who demanded a meeting with the prime minister, says protesters would continue to march until their demands for equality and justice are met.

"I have been here every day, I am the person that leads 20,000 people every protest," she said. "Everyone else seems to be in contact with me, except for Boris, so I would like a conversation."

Read more: Britain, slavery and unfinished business

Protests in Paris 

Also on Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the French capital, Paris, to protest against racism and police brutality. 

The crowd was set to march to the former home of Lamine Dieng, a Franco-Senegalese man who died in police custody in 2007, before joining up with another demonstration demanding rights for undocumented workers. 

While those two gatherings were approved, authorities banned other protests, including a demonstration planned by the Black African Defense League near the US Embassy.

nm/mm (Reuters, AP, dpa)