Protesters outside Parliament

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Several thousand protesters gathered outside Parliament on Saturday

Thousands of protesters have gathered in central London, despite police warnings to avoid demonstrations.

The Met Police placed restrictions on several groups intending to protest on Saturday.

Measures including requiring the events to end at 17:00 BST are in place following violent scenes last weekend.

A Black Lives Matter demonstration planned for Saturday was brought forward by a day over fears there could be clashes with far-right groups.

Organisers urged people not to join any anti-racism rallies planned for the weekend.

However, other demonstrators gathered around the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall and the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square on Saturday.

Various groups from around the country, including right-wing activists and groups formed of football supporters, said they had come to London to protect symbols of British history.

Among the demonstrators was Paul Golding, leader of the far-right group Britain First, who said they had turned out to “guard our monuments”.

The statue of Churchill was boxed up to protect it from potential damage, after protesters daubed “was a racist” on it last weekend.

Protesters sang the national anthem and chanted “England”, amid a tense atmosphere and heavy police presence.

One large group moved to barricades outside Downing Street and a number of objects were thrown towards police.

Sharing footage of the clashes on Twitter, Home Secretary Priti Patel described it as “unacceptable thuggery”.

“Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law,” she wrote.

“Violence towards our police officers will not be tolerated.”

She added that coronavirus “remains a threat to us all”, urging people to go home.

The Met Police said it had put a Section 60 order in place until 02:00 BST on Sunday, giving officers enhanced powers to stop and search individuals.

The Met said the move came after it learned some people were coming into London to cause harm and were likely to bring weapons with them.

Earlier, police urged protesters not to attend demonstrations in the capital due to the pandemic.

“We are asking you not to come to London, and let your voices be heard in other ways,” Met Commander Bas Javid said.

The restrictions come in the wake of violence and serious disorder in Westminster at the end of protests last weekend.

While police said those demonstrations were on the whole peaceful, there were dozens of arrests and 27 police officers were injured.

At the scene in Parliament Square

By BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani

Shortly after 13:00 BST a black woman, wearing a mask, was spoken to by police as she was entering Parliament Square from near the Supreme Court.

The officers and the woman were quickly surrounded by a jeering crowd. When officers asked the woman to get down from a plinth, one of the protesters appeared to try to slap the woman.

Part of the crowd surged as additional police officers in riot gear were brought into the scene with horses to strengthen their lines.

The crowd then threw bottles and cans at the officers and let off a number of smoke bombs. One officer appeared to be pushed to the ground as he was taking the woman away.

The new conditions, set out on the Met’s website, apply to Black Lives Matter, and to left and right-wing groups that have notified the force of their intention to demonstrate on Saturday.

Restrictions mean Black Lives Matter demonstrators must stick to a specific route between Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, where they will be permitted to assemble until 17:00.

Similar regulations applied to right-wing groups require them to assemble in Parliament Square and some parts of Whitehall, again until 17:00.

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Police were present by the Cenotaph in Whitehall, as protesters gathered on Saturday

Denise Richards, who is involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Derbyshire, said her chapter had decided not to protest in London on Saturday, and she believed other groups across the UK felt similarly.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that peaceful protesters feared they would be caught up in violent clashes with far-right demonstrators and this could “tarnish” the work of Black Lives Matter.

However, she said smaller protests would still be taking place in towns across the UK, including Newcastle and Brighton.

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Protesters from Black Lives Matter gather in the centre of Newcastle

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Protesters also take part in a silent vigil on Brighton Pier

Nick Lowles, chief executive of campaign group Hope Not Hate, said there was a “very serious” threat of trouble from far-right activists and commended Black Lives Matter for standing down their plans to protest in London on Saturday.

“There are some people who are genuinely concerned about the protection of their statues and monuments but many people are coming for a fight and they are talking openly about it on their social media accounts,” he told the programme.

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Protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square in London on Friday evening

A Black Lives Matter demonstration took place in central London on Friday evening with leaders of the march urging those in attendance to keep the demonstration “peaceful” and not to join any anti-racism rallies planned for the weekend.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged people to stay away from central London on Saturday, saying there was a risk of violence and disorder from extreme far-right groups planning to travel to the capital.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was also “almost impossible to keep social distance” at large protests and there was evidence from around the world that people who had attended demonstrations had caught Covid-19.

It came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded it “absurd and shameful” that the statue of Winston Churchill had been boarded up to protect it from potential vandalism.

Mr Johnson said the former prime minister had expressed opinions which were “unacceptable to us today” but remained a hero for saving the country from “fascist and racist tyranny”.

In a series of tweets, Mr Johnson also urged people to “stay away” from demonstrations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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A statue of Winston Churchill in London was spray-painted with the words “was a racist”

Other monuments have been removed ahead of separate protests planned over the weekend, while the Cenotaph war memorial, in Whitehall, has also been covered.

Mr Khan said other “key statues”, including one of Nelson Mandela, would be protected, saying there was a risk statues could become a “flashpoint for violence”.

It comes after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbour in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.

Demonstrations have been taking place across the world following the death in police custody of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

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