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Pro-Palestinian protesters voice disgust at Sunak ‘extremist’ comments

<span>Demonstrators outside Barclays bank in Tottenham Court Road, central London.</span><span>Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer</span>
Demonstrators outside Barclays bank in Tottenham Court Road, central London.Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

Protesters have gathered in London and at almost 50 other locations across England and Wales over Israel’s war in Gaza, a day after Rishi Sunak said democracy was being targeted by extremists.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) singled out Barclays for its day of action, with hundreds of people taking part in a demonstration outside the bank’s Tottenham Court Road branch in the centre of the capital.

The PSC called for a boycott of the British bank because it claims Barclays holds “substantial financial ties” with arms companies supplying weapons to Israel.

Protesters marched from Mornington Crescent in north London to the Barclays branch. Outside, one demonstrator who preferred not to be named, said she was “beyond frustrated” at the UK government for conflating peaceful protesters with extremism and refusing to acknowledge Islamophobia.

“[The] reluctance for our prime minister and government to mention the word Islamophobia is disturbing, because it makes you feel like you’re second class,” she said.

“It’s always: ‘They’re trying to infiltrate the UK.’ Are we not part of the UK?” she added.

Last week, Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, said the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, was under the control of Islamists on GB News. He has admitted his words were clumsy, but has stood by the comments, which led to him losing the Conservative whip.

On Friday, speaking at a lectern outside Downing Street, the prime minister urged protesters to prevent extremists from infiltrating their ranks and warned of more stringent policing.

“I want to speak directly to those who choose to continue to protest: don’t let the extremists hijack your marches,” Sunak said.

“You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens.”

Pat Mary, a former teacher, and Jocelyn Chaplin, a therapist, said they had come to the demo because they were “disgusted” by Sunak’s comments.

“When I heard Sunak’s speech yesterday, I looked online to see if there was a demonstration because even by what I consider his incredibly low standards of integrity, I thought that speech was beyond the pale,” Mary said.

“It was honestly one of the most horrible speeches I can remember, and I can remember Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech … there were echoes of that.”

Chaplin, who said she had attended most of the pro-Palestine rallies in London, added she was appalled that peaceful protests had been labelled extremist. “The situation has now become horrendous beyond words,” she added. “It is not extremist to call for a ceasefire.”

On why it was important for the demonstration to take place outside Barclays Bank, Mary said: “It’s really important to look a little bit behind the scenes at who is funding what. What would happen if the Israeli government of the Israel state no longer had access to western finances, western arms. What would happen?”

Mark Etkind shared a similar sentiment, adding that the UK government was acting against the wishes of most British people by not calling for a ceasefire. “The majority of the British people want a ceasefire. The politicians, for whatever reason, are refusing to act on that, so they have to talk about something else.”

Instead, they have made up a “ridiculous story” about the Palestine demos, he said, referring to Sunak’s speech.

“I’ve been on many demos over many decades. I’ve hardly seen more peaceful, more respectful, more decent demonstrations in my entire life, week after week after week,” Etkind said.

Barclays has been contacted for comment.

PA Media contributed to this report