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UK minister condemns ‘jihad’ chants at pro-Palestinian protest in London

London: A British government minister on Sunday condemned as ‘completely reprehensible’ the chanting of ‘jihad’ on the streets of London during pro-Palestinian protests across the UK capital, which ended in at least 10 arrests.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the issue was an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as he confirmed that some arrests have been made under terrorist legislation.

It came after a series of protests across London and other cities of Birmingham, Cardiff and Belfast on Saturday in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“Chanting jihad on the streets of London is completely reprehensible and I never want to see scenes like that,” Jenrick told ‘Sky News’.

‘It is inciting terrorist violence and it needs to be tackled with the full force of the law. Ultimately, it’s an operational matter for the police and the CPS whether to press charges… There have been arrests under terrorist legislation. And we want to do everything that we can to protect British Jews,” he said.

The minister said that beyond legality, the issue also highlighted a broader question about values. “And there should be a consensus in this country that chanting things like jihad is completely reprehensible and wrong and we don’t ever want to see that in our country,” he added.

In a statement issued by the Met Police, the force said there had been ‘pockets of disorder and some instances of hate speech’ during the demonstrations and five of its officers suffered minor injuries. The force said that officers had also reviewed a video from a Hizb ut-Tahrir protest in which a man can be seen chanting “jihad, jihad”.

“The word has a number of meanings but we know the public will most commonly associate it with terrorism. Specialist officers have assessed the video and have not identified any offences arising from the specific clip,” the Met Police said.

“However, recognising the way language like this will be interpreted by the public and the divisive impact it will have, officers identified the man involved and spoke to him to discourage any repeat of similar chanting,” the statement said.

In addition to officers deployed to police the protests, the Met Police also had counter-terrorism officers with specialist language skills and subject expertise working alongside public order officers in its main operations room, assessing video and photos that emerge. The police force indicated that the majority of the protests had been ‘lawful and taken place without incident’.

Meanwhile, British Transport Police (BTP) said investigations are ongoing after a video of a London Tube train driver leading a “Free Palestine” chant for protesters en route to a demonstration was shared across social media.

“BTP are aware of footage circulating on social media which suggests chants were led by driver of a train in London earlier. BTP are working with Transport for London and investigating the matter,” said BTP assistant chief constable Sean O’Callaghan.

An estimated 100,000 are believed to have gathered at protests across London on Saturday, with a few thousand more across other UK cities.

Writing in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK supported Israel’s right to defend itself against a ‘murderous enemy’ and highlighted that the region faced an ‘acute humanitarian crisis’ as he returned from his visit to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt after crisis talks.

“Hamas have already shown who they are. They must be defeated,” writes Sunak.

“We support, absolutely, Israel’s right to defend itself against this murderous enemy… Palestinian people in Gaza are suffering terribly at the moment, with the casualty numbers climbing constantly. They are the victims of Hamas too, who use the innocent as human shields,” he said.

His Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, has also been travelling across Israel, Turkey and Qatar as part of the UK’s diplomatic efforts to try and contain the crisis.

“We have a duty to work together to prevent instability from engulfing the region and claiming yet more lives,” he said at the Cairo Peace Summit.

(Published 22 October 2023, 12:17 IST)

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