Before the march even began, a group of far-right protesters stormed an area around the Cenotaph, a war memorial in central London, shortly after a two-minute silence was held to mark Remembrance Day. Videos showed a group bursting through a cordoned-off area and scuffling with police officers.
The London police said in a statement said that “officers have faced aggression from counterprotesters who are in the area in significant numbers.” It added that the protesters were not one cohesive group and that they “confronted and threw missiles at officers who tried to engage with them” as they moved toward other parts of the city, including Chinatown.
“Officers are keeping track of them as they do,” the police said, adding that if their intention was to confront the main pro-Palestinian protest, then “we will use all the powers and tactics available to us to prevent that from happening.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is responsible for policing in the country, argued this past week that the timing of the pro-Palestinian march was “provocative and disrespectful.” Ms. Braverman called for the march to be banned.
Under British law, the police can apply for a ban if there is a risk of serious public disorder, but Britain’s most senior police officer said that threshold had not been met in this case. “The laws created by Parliament are clear,” Mark Rowley, the Met Police’s chief commissioner, said in a statement on Tuesday. “There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.”
After meeting with Mr. Rowley and seeking assurances that the police would safeguard the remembrance events, Mr. Sunak issued a statement saying he accepted that it would go ahead. But the following day, Ms. Braverman wrote an opinion article that accused the police of bias and described attendees of previous protests as “hate marchers,” “Islamists” and “mobs,” even though past demonstrations have been mostly peaceful.
Mr. Sunak’s spokesperson said that the article, which drew fierce criticism, had not been approved and that Downing Street was investigating the circumstances surrounding its publication.
Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, one of the British groups that has organized the weekly rallies, called Ms. Braverman’s language “reckless” and “deeply irresponsible.” He said the group had been in touch with the police since the earliest demonstration because of the number of protesters involved, “and we need to know we can do that safely.”
“This is an important issue,” said Mr. Jamal, who is of Palestinian and British descent. “The bombs are going to continue falling on Gaza.”
On Saturday, people traveled by bus from around the country to attend the march, even as some feared that Ms. Braverman’s stance had encouraged far-right activists and commentators to urge people to gather in London for a counterdemonstration.
Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islam agitator, was in London on Saturday and urged supporters to take to the streets, calling for an “uncontrollable mass of men who are willing to stand for their country.” Mr. Robinson had been barred from posting on X but has since been reinstated to the platform.
Zara Mohammed, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organization for Muslim-led groups, said in a statement that she planned to join the main pro-Palestinian demonstration, “marching for an armistice on Armistice Day.”
“As with every other such protest this month, Saturday’s peace march will see people from all walks of life coming together in peace and unity to call for an immediate cease-fire,” Ms. Mohammed said. “We will also be commemorating the millions of lives lost during World War I, which include more than 2.5 million Muslims who sacrificed their lives for the democracy we have today.”
The main memorial events in Britain take place on Sunday, when the prime minister, the king and other dignitaries lay wreaths at the Cenotaph. But some commemorative events were planned in central London on Saturday morning and evening to mark Armistice Day, when Britain remembers those who fought in World War I and subsequent conflicts.
The Met Police said in a statement on Friday that in the weeks since the protests began, small groups had broken away from planned events and created disorder.
“Their behavior has been escalating and becoming more violent and distressing to the public,” the police said. “Over the last four major events, we have made more than 100 arrests for offenses including supporting proscribed organizations and serious hate crime.”
Officers assigned to the protests have additional powers to search people for weapons, the police said.
They also referred to incidents in which “convoys of cars have passed through Jewish communities with occupants waving flags and shouting antisemitic abuse.” Specialist traffic officers in cars and on motorcycles were deployed to prevent such actions on Saturday, the police said.