British Queen celebrates

Protesters at a demonstration linked to far-right groups clashed with police in central London on Saturday, after gathering to counter an anti-racism march despite officials urging

people not to turn out due to coronavirus restrictions.

Thousands of people defied the rules to assemble in and around Parliament Square, requiring a "major" policing operation the Metropolitan Police Service said, adding it encountered "pockets of violence directed towards our officers".

Footage on television news channels showed numerous instances of disorder, as some agitators threw punches, bottles and smoke bombs at officers as well as fighting with rival protesters.

The Met said by 1600 GMT -- when an order for all demonstrators to disperse came into effect -- six officers had suffered minor injuries and five people had been arrested for offences including violent disorder and assault on police.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "racist thuggery has no place on our streets" and that "anybody attacking the police would be met with full force of the law".

"These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines," he said on Twitter, as footage of the disorder was shared widely on social media.

"Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality."

- 'Guard our monuments' -

A protest by the Black Lives Matter group planned for Saturday had instead been held on Friday to avoid clashes with self-styled "patriots", who had vowed to protect memorials damaged at anti-racism demonstrations last weekend.

Paul Golding, leader of fringe far-right political group Britain First, which has seen its members jailed for hate crimes and been banned from Facebook, was among the first to assemble in Parliament Square.

He told the domestic Press Association news agency they had turned out to "guard our monuments".

"Anyone who comes along today to try and vandalise them will probably be dealt with by all of these Englishmen that turned up, and they're fed up as well," he said.

A march by several hundred Black Lives Matter activists through the capital still went ahead at lunchtime, ending in Trafalgar Square near where the counter protesters had gathered and amid a heavy police presence.

The Met had said those who had ignored the pleas not to protest must comply with conditions imposed, including keeping to separate designated areas.

"A number of people have not followed these conditions, putting officers, and other's safety at risk," Bas Javid, a commander, said in a statement.

"There have been pockets of violence directed towards our officers. This is completely unacceptable and I condemn those involved."

- 'Absolutely repulsive' -

Britain has seen a wave of protests prompted by the death during a US police arrest of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, which has triggered outrage around the world.

The majority have been peaceful, but demonstrations in London last weekend latterly turned violent while crowds in Bristol, southwest England, toppled a statue to a 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into the harbour.

Johnson said Friday the anti-racism protests had been "hijacked by extremists" while criticising the targeting of statues as "absurd and shameful".

The comments drew criticism from some opposition MPs, with Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine accusing him of "stoking division and fear in our communities by suggesting they have been hijacked by extremists."

Several central London memorials were boarded up as a precaution ahead of Saturday, including one of World War II leader Winston Churchill -- which was defaced with the word "racist" last weekend -- and the Cenotaph war shrine.

Former Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, Churchill's grandson, said the "very small, extremely explosive group of people" responsible for last weekend's vandalism were "behaving in an unspeakable and cowardly manner".

But he told the Daily Telegraph: "The idea that the hard right should stand guard over Churchill is absolutely repulsive.

"It feels like a society that has lost its compass."

Anti-racism group Hope Not Hate warned ahead of Saturday's protests that hooligan gangs attached to some English football clubs intent on violence were planning to attend.AFP