Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, solidarity demonstrations were being held in a number of cities around the world on Saturday.
Several hundred people, including far-right activists, gathered in central London’s Parliament Square to protest against racial discrimination, despite police warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.
Dozens gathered around the statue of wartime U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph war memorial, both boarded up. Officials feared far-right activists would seek confrontation with anti-racism protesters under the guise of protecting statues.
Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, said activists have turned out to “guard our monuments.”
“I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments,” Golding told the Press Association.
Monuments around the world have become flash points in demonstrations against racism and police violence after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck.
In Britain, the protests have triggered a national debate about the legacy of empire and its role in the slave trade. A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled from its plinth by protesters in the city of Bristol last Sunday and dumped in the harbour. In London, Churchill’s statue was daubed with the words “was a racist.”
Police have imposed strict restrictions on Saturday’s protests in a bid to avoid violent clashes. Authorities also fenced off other statues in Parliament Square, including memorials to Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
Police commander Bas Javid urged people not to gather in large groups at all because of the coronavirus. But if they must, he said activists have to stick to the planned route and be off the streets by 5 p.m. or risk arrest.
Newly reopened shops close in Paris
Paris police ordered the closure of freshly reopened restaurants and shops along the route of a march Saturday against police brutality and racism, fearing possible violence.
The march between the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris and the city’s main opera house is expected to be the biggest of several demonstrations around France this weekend inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.
The Paris police chief ordered merchants and city officials to clear sidewalks along the march route of anything that could be set on fire or used by troublemakers against police. Any gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned in France because of virus containment measures.
The Paris march was organized by supporters of Adama Traoré, a French Black man who died in police custody in 2016 in circumstances that remain unclear despite four years of back-and-forth autopsies. They’re demanding “justice for Adama and all victims of police.”
France has seen several demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the U.S, and they’ve been overwhelmingly peaceful, though some have seen scattered clashes between police and protesters.
Protests are also expected Saturday in Marseille, Lyon and other French cities.
In Canada, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman killed by police in northern New Brunswick last week was being remembered Saturday through a series of marches in her honour across the Maritimes.
Chantel Moore died June 4 after being shot by an officer in Edmundston during a wellness check, an incident now being investigated by Quebec’s police watchdog.
Indigenous groups say the healing walks scheduled in Edmundston, Fredericton and Moncton, N.B., and in Halifax and Membertou, N.S., should be described as Ikatomone, which translates to “Let’s guard.”
Thousands gather in Australia
Protests went ahead in far-flung parts of Australia against the advice of government and health authorities but on a significantly smaller scale than the previous weekend, when tens of thousands rallied in cities along the east coast.
The biggest demonstration was in Perth, the Western Australia state capital, where the Australian Broadcasting Corp. estimated that 5,000 people gathered to honour George Floyd and remember Indigenous Australian people who have died while in police custody.
Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan had urged organizers to postpone the event, saying “this is about trying to save people’s lives.”
A man in his 30s who attended the rally in Melbourne last weekend later tested positive for the coronavirus, heightening concerns about a potential second wave in Australia just as the federal and state governments are easing restrictions.
Western Australia COVID-19 regulations prohibit crowds of more than 300 from gathering, although police weren’t enforcing social distancing fines and organizers offered face masks and hand sanitizer to protesters on Saturday.
The nationwide day of protests started in the far north, with more than 1,000 people gathering in City Park in Darwin, which has the highest proportion of Indigenous people of Australia’s state capitals.
Police in the North Territory issued a statement saying the event was peaceful “and allowed community members to express their views in a safe environment.”
Sharna Alley, one of the Darwin protest organizers, told the crowd in comments broadcast by Sky News Australia: “We’re tired of the injustices. We’re tired of the brutality against our people in so-called protective custody. We really want to know, when will it stop.”
Indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders comprise two per cent of Australia’s adult population but 27 per cent of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in the country and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poorer overall health, as well as shorter life expectancy and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.