POLICE are battling to control thousands of demonstrators staging protests in Bolton town centre.

The English Defence League (EDL), an organisation which opposes "radical Muslims" and Sharia law, organised the rally in Victoria Square.

But a counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is under way and hundreds of police officers are trying to keep the two factions separate, aided by police dogs.

There are around 2,000 UAF protesters in the square and a similar number of EDL demonstrators arrived shortly after 1.30pm, with the opposing factions facing off across the square and chanting slogans.

More than 30 UAF protesters and three from the EDL have been arrested so far, police said. Two have also suffered minor injuries. A UAF organiser has also been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, from Greater Manchester Police, who is leading the policing operation, said: "There have been unwarranted attacks on police lines that have resulted in injuries.

"This is not a peaceful protest and we are facing a lot of hostility. We will take swift action when confronted with disorder."

Riot police and mounted officers armed with batons are trying to keep the crowds in check in front of the town hall.

A police helicopter has been dispatched to assist the officers on the ground, police said.

UAF groups are chanting "Fascist scum off our streets".

Second World War veteran Bertie Lois, aged 89, who lives in Farnworth, is protesting with the UAF.

He said: "I fought the Second World War against these Nazis. What did I fight for if we let them? The EDL are the enemy. I would say to them 'you are the guys we fought for, what are you doing?'."