MALMO, Sweden — Far-right anti-Islamic groups from ten European countries are planning to rally in Denmark on the last day of March, for what organizers are describing as the birth of a European movement.
The rally signals the further expansion of the English Defense League (EDL), the anti-Islamic group, which has become the most significant far-right force in the UK since the National Front in the 1970s, drawing 3,000 supporters to a March in Luton last year.
“We're hoping this will be the launch of a wider European Defense League,” said Stephen Lennon, the former football hooligan who formed the group three years ago.
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Kasper Mortensen, leader of the Danish Defense League, said he would soon officially announce the rally, which will take place in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, on March 31.
More than 10 anti-Islamic groups from across Europe are expected to send representatives, including the EDL’s eight sister “Defense Leagues."
Weyman Bennet, a spokesman for Unite Against Fascism, warned the march could lead to people being hurt.
"Everywhere they've called a demonstration there's been violence," he said. "Across Europe, the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People's Party, all of them are growing by using this rhetoric. We see them as a group of people who will try and encourage fascist politics. They've simply swapped anti-Semitism for anti-Islam." Mr Lennon, who was convicted of assault in November 2011 after head-butting another EDL member at a rally, said his members aimed to march in peace.
“The likelihood is that the local Islamic community will come and attack us, aided and abetted by the far-Left,” he said. “We come to protest peacefully, it's not our fault that when we come out, that they come to try and bash our heads in.”
Imran Shah, the spokesman for the Islamic Society of Denmark, urged Muslims in Aarhus to stay away from the streets.
“There’s no reason for Muslims to be there, that would just be asking for trouble,” he said.
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He said the massacre of 77 people by Norwegian far-Right terrorist Anders Breivik in July, should push the Danish government to act against the growing movement.
“We’ve seen what the rhetoric of hate can do in Norway. Do we want some deaths here before we react?” he said.
Denmark is a natural choice for the EDL to launch its first European march.
The Danish People’s Party is one of the most electorally successful anti-immigrant parties in Europe, winning 12.3 per cent in elections last September and the Danish Defense League has grown rapidly since its founding a year ago, with chapters already set up in more than 10 Danish cities.
The EDL has held one European rally before, sending members to Amsterdam in 2010 in support of Dutch anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders, who was in court accused of insulting religious and ethnic groups.
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Mr Wilders, who has moved to distance himself from the EDL, is not expected to attend the event.
But Mr Lennon said that this visit had inspired him to link up with other far-right groups in Europe, setting up the European Freedom Initiative, which is run by his associate, Steve Simmons.
Breivik was an early European supporter of the EDL, attending an EDL rally in Bradford in 2010, and claiming hundreds of EDL members as his Facebook friends.
Mr Lennon said he expected March's rally to be the first of many.
“We don't expect it to be big, but our first event wasn't that big, and they're just going to get bigger and bigger.”
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