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.”
The police later said they had detained a “large group” of counterprotesters believed to have been part of the earlier disorder.
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.” Mr. Jamal, who is of Palestinian and British descent, 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.”
On Saturday, people traveled by bus and train 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.
As the protest got underway in Hyde Park, tens of thousands were gathered, waving large Gazan flags in the bright sunshine and carrying placards reading “End the siege” and “Cease-fire now.”
The demonstrators represented a broad swath of the population: families with babies in strollers, teenagers chatting and laughing with flags draped over their shoulders, an older man who walked slowly but joined the mass of people as it progressed down the park’s main avenue.