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UK Islamophobic march in Birmingham draws protests

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Anti-racist activists march against Islamophobia during a counter protest in Birminham, England on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

A growing number of UK citizens and lawmakers have united to condemn an Islamophobic rally by a far-right group in Birmingham, Britain’s second most populous city.

In a move to oppose Saturday's march, Stand Up To Racism organized a counter protest called the Birmingham United anti-racist event.

Stand Up To Racism said it was pushing a "message of unity and opposition to racism and Islamophobia on the streets of Birmingham," according to the group's Facebook page.

The group said the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) was promoting "hatred and intolerance" during Saturday's march.

The FLA's calls for "anti-extremist" protests have raised concern among locals and anti-racists who fear the march could be the UK's biggest ever Islamophobic mobilization.

A key speaker at the event is anti-Islam advocate Anne Marie Waters, the founder and leader of the far-right party For Britain. Waters has called Islam "evil" and has links to an ex-member of the fascist British National Party, according to the Guardian.

British police were deployed in the city center in anticipation of potential violence.

"The FLA said they are not racists, but they have invited Anne Marie Walters and other far-right racists,” Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism's co-convenor, told Al Jazeera.

"They are friends of racists and fascists and have targeted Birmingham because they see it as a Muslim town. We have to stand united against those that seek to divide us," he said.

Birmingham is the largest and most populous British city outside London, with an estimated population of 1.1 million. About 22 percent of the city’s residents identify themselves as Muslim, significantly higher than the average for England and Wales of 4.8 percent.

In a show of support for the Stand Up To Racism event, several British lawmakers added their voices to a statement expressing concern over the FLA march.

"I unreservedly condemn the Football Lads Alliance because it is an organization seeking to divide our society and to claim to be, in any way, associated with mainstream football supporters is abhorrent," the statement said.

Other signatories to the statement include general-secretaries of several major trade unions and local councilors, faith and community groups.

Last week, the Guardian reported that FLA uses a secret Facebook page that contains violent, racist and misogynistic material as well as posts targeting Sadiq Khan, London's first Muslim mayor, and Dianne Abbott, UK shadow home secretary and Britain's first black female Member of Parliament (MP).

UK official figures show that hate crimes against Muslims and other groups have soared in recent years.  According to a report by the UK Home Office, hate crimes surged nearly 30 percent in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum as well as the 2017 terrorist attacks in Westminster Bridge and Manchester.

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