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Suella Braverman, home secretary, is facing Labour calls to quit or be sacked after violent clashes between police and rightwing groups erupted on the streets of central London as Britain remembered its war dead.

The Metropolitan Police described the clashes between its officers and the right on Saturday as “extreme violence” and said the political debate about policing protests had combined “to increase community tensions”.

Last week Braverman branded Saturday’s pro-Palestinian protest a “hate march” and accused the police of being biased and taking a tougher line against rightwing protests.

Braverman was accused by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of sowing the “seeds of hatred” while Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan said the violence was “the direct result” of her words and behaviour.

Rightwing groups were involved in altercations with the police around the Cenotaph, the nation’s principal war memorial, and in violence elsewhere in the capital.

Meanwhile a pro-Palestinian protest was attended by about 300,000 people, according to police.

Police said people taking part in the rightwing “counter-protests” made up the “vast majority” of 126 arrests on Saturday. Some individuals were draped in England flags and broke through police lines at the Cenotaph.

The Met has also issued of photos of three people it suspects of antisemitic hate crimes during the pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Asked on Sunday if he endorsed Braverman’s comments, Grant Shapps, defence secretary, said he would not “have used those words” but insisted the home secretary had not incited the violence by rightwing groups.

“Those people who were going to come and try and disrupt this weekend had already said they were going to do it,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips. Braverman’s office has been approached for comment.

The violence will increase pressure on the prime minister Rishi Sunak to sack his home secretary, with many Conservative MPs urging him to remove her in a reshuffle, which is expected soon.

“Few people in public life have done more recently to whip up division, set the British people against one another and sow the seeds of hatred and distrust than Suella Braverman,” Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “In doing so, she demeans her office.”

In a statement, Sunak condemned the “violent, wholly unacceptable scenes” from “the EDL [English Defence League] and associated groups and Hamas sympathisers attending the National March for Palestine”.

Sunak said he expected any criminality at protests to be met with the “swift force of the law” and would be meeting Met Police chief Sir Mark Rowley in the coming days.

The prime minister added: “That is true for EDL thugs attacking police officers and trespassing on the Cenotaph, and it is true for those singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing . . . The fear and intimidation the Jewish community have experienced over the weekend is deplorable.”

Braverman wanted the police to ban the pro-Palestinian march, but Rowley declined because he said there was no intelligence that it posed a “real threat of serious disorder”.

Senior Conservatives joined those criticising Braverman. One former cabinet minister said: “Most of my colleagues want her sacked.” But some Tory MPs support her robust language.

“Suella Braverman’s views may be distasteful to Westminster liberals but they’re utterly mainstream in rest of UK,” Tory MP Miriam Cates said last week.

Last week Downing Street said that it had “not cleared” an inflammatory article by Braverman in The Times newspaper in which she accused the police of having a “double standard” in policing demonstrations and taking a softer line with those espousing leftwing causes.

Matt Twist, assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, said that Saturday’s events followed a “week of intense debate about protest and policing” that had combined to “increase community tensions”.

“The extreme violence from the rightwing protesters towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning,” he said. 

Before the protests the Metropolitan Police said it had doubled the number of officers on duty for the weekend, with 1,850 deployed in the UK’s capital on Saturday. Officers had been warned to ignore any political pressure while doing their jobs.

The Metropolitan Police said: “While the Palestine Solidarity Campaign march did not see the sort of physical violence carried out by the rightwing . . . the impact of hate crime and in particular antisemitic offences is just as significant.”

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