Tower Hamlets mayor raises Palestinian flag over town hall

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Media captionLutfur Rahman tweeted: "Palestinian flag flying at Town Hall in solidarity with #Gaza and in support of a #ceasefire & peace" on Wednesday

The mayor of Tower Hamlets, in east London, has been criticised for raising the Palestinian flag at the town hall.

Lutfur Rahman tweeted: "Palestinian flag flying at Town Hall in solidarity with #Gaza and in support of a #ceasefire & peace" on Wednesday.

Government minister Brandon Lewis said it was a "clear political statement on an area of public policy which the municipal body has no responsibility".

The flag was removed on Thursday morning, but was replaced hours later.

Tensions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict have escalated in recent weeks.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005. But it still exercises control over most of Gaza's borders, waters and airspace.

It has imposed tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people, which it says is vital for its own security, but Palestinians say they feel confined and the restrictions are intolerable.

In a statement, independent mayor Mr Rahman said the decision to fly the flag was to "raise the urgent need for humanitarian aid in Gaza".

Image caption Lutfur Rahman is currently subject to police and government investigations

He said: "Some have suggested that raising the Palestinian flag is to take sides, however, my decision was in solidarity with civilian Palestinian victims.

"Sometimes politicians need to take a stand in the face of injustice and needless suffering and that is what I am doing."

He added that the flag had been "ripped from the flagpole in an act of perceived vandalism" on Thursday morning, however, by Thursday evening the flag was flying again.

Communities Minister Mr Lewis said the government's advice was the union jack should fly in a superior position on public bodies' flag poles.

"There may be some occasions where a foreign flag might be appropriate - for example, to mark a visit by a council's 'town twinning' partner or a distinguished visitor," he said.

'Gesture politics'

Mr Rahman said that the full council supported his decision to fly the flag, but Peter Golds, leader of the local Conservative group, said his members had abstained from the vote.

Mr Golds added that raising the flag was "gesture politics of the worst kind" and would create divisions "where there ought not to be division".

"What on earth is the leader of a local authority [doing], starting to interfere in foreign affairs? What's his experience?" he said.

Earlier this year the government began an investigation into allegations the mayor disproportionately funded Bengali groups in order to get their vote in his first term in office. Mr Rahman has strenuously denied the allegations.

The Red Flag Anti-Corruption Party has also accused Mr Rahman's party of electoral fraud, corruption and political smears, which the High Court is due to consider over the next few months.

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