Wootton Bassett in Islamic march row

A TOWN known for honouring dead British soldiers returning from Afghanistan reacted defiantly yesterday to news that a controversial Islamic group is to march through its streets.

• Hundreds line Wootton Bassett High Street as the bodies of

servicemen are driven through

Islam4UK, which calls itself a "platform" for extremist movement al-Muhajiroun, plans to parade through Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, in the coming weeks. The group's website says the event is being held "not in memory of the occupying and merciless British military", but of the Muslims its says have been "murdered in the name of democracy and freedom".

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Leader Anjem Choudary said yesterday that the protest, which would involve 500 people, would be peaceful, with "symbolic coffins" being carried to honour the Muslim victims of the conflict. The walk will not coincide with the return of a dead soldier's body, added Choudary, 42, a former lawyer from East London.

Hundreds of people line the market town's High Street every week to watch servicemen's bodies being driven through from RAF Lyneham. Family and friends of the fallen, shopkeepers and Royal British Legion members wait in all weathers to pay tribute to a cortge of coffins draped in the Union flag.

Former mayor and councillor Chris Wannell said: "We don't do what we do at Wootton Bassett for any political reason, but to pay our respects to those who have given their lives for our freedom."

North Wiltshire MP James Gray said:

"The people of Wootton Bassett are not interested in politics. They will say 'these are foolish people making a silly point'.

This also misunderstands the nature of what the people of Wootton Bassett do. They are not bloodthirstily in favour of the war. The people of Wootton Bassett are decent, quiet, pragmatic people, and they'll stay at home instead (of reacting to the march]."

Islam4UK describes the plans for the "momentous march" on its website. It says:

"The proposed march by members of Islam4UK is held not in memory of the occupying and merciless British military, but rather the real war dead who have been shunned by the western media and general public."

Wiltshire Police said they respected the right to peaceful protest, but would deal with any breach of the law appropriately.