Police have arrested five people during a major operation to keep Britain’s first anti-Islam Pegida rally and a larger group of counter demonstrators apart.
Northumbria Police said 375 people were on the Pegida rally while 2,000 joined the Newcastle Unites protest in the city centre.
There was a brief scuffle involving members of far-right groups which temporarily damaged Pegida’s PA system, a steward said, but there was no outbreak of major trouble.
It was unclear which sides the five arrested men were from, and their alleged offences ranged from assault, to being drunk and disorderly and breach of the peace.
Police said the arrests were for isolated incidents and both events passed off smoothly.
Pegida organisers insisted before the event that it would be peaceful, that they were not racist and that the far-right were not welcome.
International TV crews including staff from Australia and Japan filmed the rallies, which were kept apart by lines of officers in fluorescent jackets.
Paul Weston, leader of the right-wing Liberty GB party, spoke at the Pegida rally, telling supporters that Muslims would be in the majority in Britain in decades to come and that they will “take over”.
“That is exactly what they will do if we quietly do nothing,” he told the crowd. “We have to fight back.”
He said he felt sure Pegida could build on the first event and attract middle England in a way the English Defence League had not.
All right-thinking people in Britain condemn the idea of a German Nazi group coming to the North East of England trying to stir up troubleGeorge Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford West
“For a first meeting, I think that is OK,” he said. “It is bigger than the first meetings they had in Dresden.”
Pegida - whose German acronym means Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West - peaked last month in Dresden when 25,000 people attended a rally, but its popularity faded following a scandal among its leaders.
George Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford West, spoke at the Newcastle Unites counter demo.
Beforehand, he said: “All right-thinking people in Britain condemn the idea of a German Nazi group coming to the North East of England trying to stir up trouble.
“The vast majority of British people respect that and the people who are on here on the counter-demonstration are representing millions.
“We have enough problems in Britain without Germans coming over here and causing more. We have problems in Britain without racism and Islamophobia being further stoked.”
Mr Galloway, who travelled to the North East in his Mercedes, said he was not anti-German. “I love Germans, I’m driving a German car, but this is one German import we don’t want,” he said.
Dr Jacqui Rodgers, a university lecturer, was on the counter demo which attracted a cross-section of people of different faiths.
She said: “I think it is really important for us to unite as a community and make it very clear to organisations that are trying to get a foothold in the UK that we will not tolerate their attitude and we won’t accept their racist and fascist policies.”
But Pegida rally organiser Donna Trainor said: “Islam is not a race, it is a religion. (The term) ‘racist’ shouldn’t be on the table.
“Pegida raises awareness. We want the Government to take notice and take jihadis and Muslim extremists off the street.”
Unemployed Wendy Ellison, 46, from Durham, brought her bulldogs Willow and Betty to the Pegida rally.
She said: “It’s no good sitting in the house, shouting at the telly. I feel our country is messed up now. It doesn’t feel like Britain any more.”
Before the events Northumbria Police insisted it would be business as usual for the city, which was also hosting fans of Newcastle United and Aston Villa for a Premier League match.
Newcastle Chief Superintendent Laura Young said: “Both demonstrations passed without any problems and I’d like to thank people in Newcastle for their cooperation and support throughout.
“The vast majority of those that took part in today’s events were peaceful and both groups stuck to their agreed times, routes and plans.”