LONDON (AP) – Authorities in London boarded up a war memorial and a statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill ahead of expected rival demonstrations by anti-racism and far-right protesters, as the cityâ€™s mayor on Friday urged protesters to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Monuments have become major focuses of contention in demonstrations against racism and police violence after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck.
A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled from its plinth by protesters in the English port city of Bristol on Sunday and dumped in the harbor.
Several other statues have been defaced during mass protests around the country, including Churchillâ€™s, which was daubed with the words â€œwas a racist.â€ Police now fear far-right groups plan to seek confrontation under the guise of protecting statues.
With more demonstrations expected on the weekend, a protective plywood screen was erected late Thursday around Churchillâ€™s statue outside Parliament. Authorities also fenced off the nearby Cenotaph, a memorial to Britainâ€™s war dead.
A Black Lives Matter group in London said it was calling off a planned protest on Saturday because the presence of far-right activists would make it unsafe, though some anti-racism demonstrators are still likely to gather. Another anti-racism protest Friday looked set to go ahead.
Authorities have urged protesters not to gather because of the continued risk of spreading the coronavirus. Gatherings of more than six people are currently barred in England, though police have allowed previous demonstrations to take place.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was â€œextremely concerned that further protests in central London not only risk spreading COVID-19, but could lead to disorder, vandalism and violence.â€
He said far-right groups planned to â€œprovoke violence, and their only goal is to distract and hijack this important issue.
â€œStaying home and ignoring them is the best response this weekend.â€