Tyne & Wear

Millfield mosque opponents call for peace

Residents opposed to a mosque in Sunderland have accused far right groups and counter-demonstrators of bringing violence into their area.

Earlier this month, police arrested 13 people when the English Defence League and anti-facist groups clashed at the site in St Mark's Road in Millfield.

The Northern Patriotic Front is planning a rally on 17 November saying it wants to give locals a "voice".

But residents said the protest rallies were bringing fear to the area.

Plans for the mosque have been approved by Sunderland City Council but one resident, Marjorie Matthews, said many locals objected to the plans because of traffic congestion and noise.

Their oppositon was not based on concerns about ethnicity or religion, she said.

"If the people of Millfield want to hold a peaceful demonstration that is fine by me, and that is what was planned last time, but it didn't happen," she said.

The application for the mosque, by the Pakistan Islamic Centre, has attracted almost 700 letters of objection.

Spokesman Zaf Iqbal said: "This has stopped being about the mosque and the issue has become a tool for the far right to use to drum up support for whatever reasons they've got.

"We would rather the police stopped the demonstrations, but apparently they can't if they say they are going to be peaceful."

One resident, who did not wish to be named, said the rallies were making locals "afraid."

'Frightening prospect'

He said: "It is quite a frightening prospect - with lots of things being thrown, bottles, rocks and fireworks - it is getting worse."

But Simon Biggs, of the Northern Patriotic Front, claimed residents' wishes were being ignored.

"Residents think they are being treated really shoddily and they don't think they have a voice.

"So we are doing things with the local community and we will carry on doing demonstrations even if the mosque is built," he said.

Ch Supt Kay Blyth, of Northumbria Police, said only peaceful protests would be tolerated.

"Where appropriate we will be imposing very strict conditions on those taking part and will take firm action against those who overstep the mark," she said.

Sunderland Mayor Iain Kay, who represents the Millfield ward, said neither far right groups not counter-demonstrators were welcome because of the potential for trouble.

Sunderland city council leader, Councillor Paul Watson said the mosque plan was considered on merit and all legitimate objections were properly considered.

He said conditions have been attached to address concerns about noise and car parking.

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