Tensions rose as Black Lives Matter protesters clashed with crowds gathering to “defend the war memorial” from the movement.

Hundreds of people gathered in Victoria Square on Saturday afternoon, after Black Lives Matter 4 Bolton organised a march of solidarity.

Sparked by George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, the group has begged for an end to systemic racism.

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Similar protests have been held across the globe, with some dissolving into riots that saw shops looted and destroyed, statues pulled down or vandalised, and even at attempt to burn the London cenotaph’s Union Flag.

Before the day of the protest had even arrived, leader of Bolton Council David Greenhalgh had condemned the protests, urging people to find an alternative way of expressing their anger.

In a statement, Cllr Greenhalgh said: “Lockdown rules are clear, they need to be enforced.

“We, as a Council, have made it clear we do not support these large gatherings at a time when a virus is claiming the lives of thousands of people.

“It is irresponsible and reckless, and threatens a second wave.”

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Cllr Greenhalgh announced a two-metre-high fence would be installed to protect the war memorial on Victoria Square, but the fencing didn’t stop hundreds of people from turning out as early as 10am to surround the structure.

Emotions were running high, as crowds of counter-protesters booed the BLM supporters as they clapped and cheered, calling for an “equal future for everyone”.

Protesters chanting “black lives matter” were called racist, and a small group could be heard chanting “white lives matter” before the crowd of counter-protesters drowned it out with “all lives matter”.

Some small scuffles broke out, but were quickly dispersed by police or fellow protesters making pleas for peace.

One protester was seen kicking a counter-protester, before police moved in and created a wide divide between the two groups.

At least one counter-protester was spotted in the back of a police car as it drove away from the demonstration – it is believed that more protesters from both groups were arrested but Greater Manchester Police have not yet confirmed this.

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A turning point for the tensions came when two protesters broke through the police lines, approaching the counter-protesters and embracing them.

The two sides talked, with a young black man explaining that he was here because his life mattered, whilst a counter-protester said he just wanted to protect his grandparents memorial.

BLM organisers stressed that they never wished to target the memorial on Victoria Square, and the discussion between both sides has been praised across the country.

Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr David Greenhalgh, continued to condemn yesterday's protests, but recognised that the gathering remained peaceful.

He said: “The right to peaceful protest is an important part of every democracy but at a time when we continue to face real risks from the coronavirus our advice this weekend, which remains, is that people should find alternative methods to protest rather than attending mass gatherings.

“I am disappointed people chose to ignore that advice but I would like to thank the majority of the protestors on both sides who turned up today to demonstrate peacefully, and a huge thank you to the police who did an excellent job in controlling and handling the situation.

“As an authority, we reject all forms of discrimination. We took the precaution of protecting our war memorials in Bolton town centre and Westhoughton as we simply could not stand by and risk anyone trying to deface them, as we have seen in protests in other towns and cities.

“I am pleased that nobody attempted to do this.”

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Protesters ended the day by kneeling in front of the war memorial, chanting “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” before dispersing.

Two people who had been “protecting” the memorial remained to counter the protesters with a cry of “all lives matter”, but the remaining group stayed focused on their cause.

Labour leader Cllr Nick Peel added: “There was an unnecessary assumption made that there would be vandalism and violence at todays protest.

“The organisers of the protest did themselves proud, with their clear messages about social distancing. They must be commended for the way in which they conducted themselves.

“Our brilliant police officers were extremely professional and did a great job in difficult circumstances.

“I am very satisfied that the merchants of doom and gloom were proved wrong, and their predictions of an impending riot could not have been further from the truth.”