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Protesters in London and Paris march against the war in Gaza and antisemitism

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through the center of London yesterday, calling on Israel to stop bombing Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Cease-fire now. Cease-fire now. Cease-fire now. Cease-fire now.

RASCOE: The demonstration, which was largely pro-Palestinian, was by far the biggest in Britain since the war began. It was also the most controversial. It coincided with Britain's Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the First World War. Senior government officials wanted the march banned. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us now from the U.K. Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

RASCOE: So how did the march play out on the ground?

REEVES: Well, the police say roughly 300,000 people took part. The organizers say that number was closer to 800,000. Either way, it was huge. People came from across the country. Many brandished Palestinian flags and signs accusing Israel of genocide. There were men and women, young and old and also children. They gathered in Hyde Park, and then they marched through the heart of London, ending up outside the U.S. Embassy. It was tense and, for some, also highly emotional. Among the marchers was Yasmin Hussein, who was there with her family.

YASMIN HUSSEIN: I'm here for the people of Palestine, for the children of Palestine, for the vulnerable of Palestine, for the elderly of Palestine. I'm just saying, please stop. Just stop, please. Please.

RASCOE: Tell us about concerns over the march taking place on Armistice Day.

REEVES: Well, some people thought it was disrespectful to do this on a day marking the end of World War I, in which the British, remember, suffered huge losses. Every year, there's a ceremony with two minutes silence at London's national war memorial, the Cenotaph. That passed peacefully. The march itself was also overwhelmingly peaceful, although police say they're investigating some possible hate crimes. And at one point, a small breakaway group fired fireworks at them. Many marchers argued that there was nothing at all disrespectful about holding it on Armistice Day - in fact, the reverse. This is Adnan Ali, a lawyer from London.

ADNAN ALI: Armistice Day was about celebrating a cease-fire. All we're calling for is a cease-fire and to the end of hostilities and violence against children, women and innocent civilians. I really don't think there's anything controversial, and I think our politicians are exceptionally reckless in stirring up hatred and division amongst our communities.

RASCOE: What does he mean by that about, quote, "politicians stirring up hatred and division"?

REEVES: Well, this is about Suella Braverman, Britain's home secretary, or interior minister. Last week, she called pro-Palestinian protests hate marches, which were done by, in her words, pro-Palestinian mobs. Her opponents say she's stirring up division for personal political gain at a time of dangerously heightened tensions. Now some of them are also blaming her for inciting violent right-wing counterprotests that also happened in London yesterday.

The police spent most of the day stopping counterprotesters from getting amongst the marchers and say they faced what they described as extraordinary and deeply concerning violence from some of these counterprotesters. They say most of them were soccer hooligans, some of them were drunk and, in the end, nine police wound up getting injured. And during the day, overall, there were more than 120 arrests, most of these counterprotesters.

RASCOE: NPR's Philip Reeves, thank you so much for joining us.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.