Troublemakers warned over Preston rival protests

Troublemakers have been warned to stay away from Preston ahead of two rival protests in the city centre.

Members of the English Defence League (EDL) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are both marching on Saturday.

Stall holders at Preston Flag Market have said they fear trouble and will stay closed. Mosques are also urging Muslims to stay out of the city.

Police said significant resources would be in place which would minimise the chance for disorder.

"It will be appropriate for the event and we will look for two lawful and peaceful events, but if you are coming to break the law in the city of Preston don't bother," said Ch supt Tim Jaques.

"They [protesters] are in areas with a few hundred yards between them with a large visible presence.

"It gives them their opportunity to demonstrate, which is their lawful right in a democratic society, but obviously minimises the risk and potential for disorder and incidents to happen."

Despite police reassurances, the Preston Mosque has written to members of the community urging them to avoid the city centre all day.

Muslims have also been urged to avoid any counter protests, with the letter stating: "History shows us that these end up in violence and arrests."

The city council has also released a statement condeming the EDL protest, which it said threatened "harmony and understanding" between the city's different ethnic and cultural groups.

Stalls 'worried'

Some shop owners and market traders said they were also unconvinced by security arrangements and feared clashes between the two groups.

Pete Burns, who runs a book stall, said: "There is no market. There is going to be nobody here on Saturday."

Another stall holder, Kath Jenkins - who runs Kath's Fabrics - said holding the protests in the market area was "very, very unfair".

"It's coming up to the busiest time of the year and all this should have been put by until probably after Christmas or not be allowed to function at all, because there's been trouble in the past and the stalls are worried," she said.

Saeed Ibrahim, who runs a fancy goods stall, told the BBC that added security on the day would not make a difference.

"If there are some troublemakers here we have a problem. If they pick stuff up and throw it about we'll have property lost or damaged," he said.

"I've never shut before on Saturday. It is a concern over safety, safety for the goods and safety for ourselves."

Losses 'unfortunate'

The EDL is holding a protest against what it calls the "Islamification of Britain" and spokesman Michael Robinson apologised to traders affected.

"Obviously they [traders] will lose money and that's unfortunate. But we have to do this. We have to be there. We cannot stop," he said.

Mr Robinson said the organisation had chosen Preston because it was "next on the list" of major towns and cities in England.

However, event notices posted on the social networking website Facebook describe it as a "Preston demo against the Mosque expansion".

The UAF said it was protesting in Preston to oppose racism. The EDL denies it is a racist organisation.

Spokesman Martin Smith said: "I judge people by their actions and I believe this organisation is a virulently racist organisation."

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