Sunak Clashes With Police Chief Over Planned Pro-Palestinian March

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A pro-Palestinian demonstration planned for Saturday in London has become embroiled in a tense political debate that has put Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at odds with Britain’s most senior police official over whether the event should take place at all.

For the past four Saturdays, tens of thousands of people have marched in London to denounce the rising civilian death toll in Gaza as Israel bombarded the territory in response to the Hamas terror attacks last month.

Another march is planned for this Saturday, but Nov. 11 is also Armistice Day, when Britons remember the end of World War I. Mr. Sunak described the juxtaposition of the protest with some remembrance events as “provocative and disrespectful,” and has called for the pro-Palestinian protest to be banned.

Under British law, the police can apply for a march to be banned if there is a risk of serious public disorder, but the last time this power was used was more than a decade ago for a series of far-right marches.

While the Metropolitan Police Service did ask march organizers earlier in the week to postpone the demonstration, its leadership has so far resisted calls for a ban.

“The laws created by Parliament are clear,” Mark Rowley, the chief of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.”

Mr. Rowley added that while he recognized public and political concern about how the protest would affect a “moment of national reflection,” he was committed to ensuring the march would pass without disruption.

“The reason we have an independent police service is so that among debate, opinion, emotion, and conflict, we stand in the center, focused simply on the law and the facts in front of us,” he said.

Mr. Sunak, in a letter to Mr. Rowley late last week, had said “there is a clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated,” although march organizers said they had no plans to march near the Cenotaph or Whitehall, where the remembrance events will take place.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr. Sunak said Mr. Rowley would answer for his decisions.

“He has said that he can ensure that we safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe,” he told Sky News. “Now, my job is to hold him accountable for that.” The two men were set to meet to discuss the event on Wednesday.

The vast majority of people attending previous Saturday demonstrations have been peaceful. But there have been some fringe elements, the police say, and more than 160 people have been arrested in London for a range of offenses, including racially motivated public offenses, violence and assaulting police officers, since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

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