THE North West Infidels’ anti-mosque protest was a “huge challenge”, say police, which forced them to close Blackburn Road for the public’s safety.
Police and tactical units from across the north west were drafted in to Bolton on Saturday, as protesters demonstrated against the extension of the Taiyabah Islamic Centre.
A counter-protest was held by members of the local community, Bolton Trades Union Council and Bolton Against Racism.
Tensions ran high during the protest, which saw a firework, eggs and a bottle thrown at police. There were two arrests including an 18-year-old on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.
Another man, aged 34, was arrested on suspicion of making racist remarks.
Police had initially arranged to only close Canning Street off to the public during the rally, but Supt Andrea Jones said the main road had to be closed on safety grounds.
She said: “The protest posed a number of complex challenges and as a result we had a large operation on the ground on Saturday afternoon to facilitate peaceful protest, protect the local community, minimise disruption and prevent disorder.
“Clearly, the very nature of any protest is that people express strong views, emotions run high and there are moments of tension.
“We saw that on Saturday and in such dynamic circumstances we had to make the difficult decision on the day to close Blackburn Road for longer than we had hoped to ensure the public’s safety.
“I would like to thank motorists and the local community for their patience during the disruption and would stress we took these measures to ensure the safety of everyone in the area."
A police spokesman said it was not yet known how much the operation cost.
Supt Jones said it was testament to the “meticulous planning” of the police and Bolton Council that there was no large-scale disorder.
She added: “The protest was a huge challenge and inevitably caused not only traffic disruption but also feelings within the community to run high.
“I am delighted by the way our community responded and engaged with the local mosques in the area. That is testament to the community spirit we have here in Bolton.”
Crompton councillor Hanif Darvesh said he thought police handled the operation “very effectively”.
He said: “They almost forced themselves to over-man the operation, as there was a lot of criticism in terms of allowing it to take place in a residential area.
“They could not afford for anything to go wrong, and it worked out really well.
“For some members of the local community, who attended the protest, it is the first time for as long as they can remember that Blackburn Road was closed.”