Some protesters have clashed with police as thousands of people flooded into central London for a Black Lives Matter demonstration in response to the death of George Floyd.
Activists chanted “black lives matter” and “we will not be silent” at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park on Wednesday, in a peaceful protest before tensions escalated outside Downing Street.
Star Wars actor John Boyega was among those to speak at the rally before protesters, many wearing masks and holding placards, marched on Westminster.
Chief constables from across the UK issued a joint statement saying they “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified” after a black man died after being restrained by US police.
Mr Floyd died after a white officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking days of protest in the US.
At the Downing Street coronavirus press conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said: “We mourn George Floyd and I was appalled and sickened to see what happened to him.
“And my message to President Trump, to everybody in the United States, from the UK is that I don’t think racism – it’s an opinion I’m sure is shared by the overwhelming majority of people around the world – racism, racist violence, has no place in our society.”
He said people had the right to protest, but added: “I would urge people to protest peacefully, and in accordance with the rules on social distancing. Everybody’s lives matter, black lives matter, but we must fight this virus as well.”
As Mr Johnson was speaking, videos shared on social media showed protesters and police clashing outside Downing Street.
Footage shows objects including signs and a traffic cone being thrown at police while one protester is wrestled to the ground and restrained by officers.
Freelance journalist Mattha Busby filmed the moment and said it was “unclear exactly what started things”.
“Police appeared to attempt to take a man from the crowd and pandemonium ensued,” he tweeted.
It's kicking off now. Unclear exactly what started things. Police appeared to attempt to take a man from the crowd and pandemonium ensued pic.twitter.com/6XPGXV2HKt— Mattha Busby (@matthabusby) June 3, 2020
Another object, which appeared to be a plastic bottle, was also thrown at officers outside Downing Street.
Some officers were seen “taking a knee” earlier in the day, but when protesters knelt at 6pm no police joined them.
Several hundred demonstrators were also at Trafalgar Square.
Protesters remained outside Downing Street chanting as a limited amount of traffic passed down Whitehall. Many climbed on to the window ledges of a neighbouring building as others talked with a line of police outside the gates to the street.
At one point, police escorted a man to the side of the road who was bleeding from the head, with blood over his clothes and camera.
Later, a crowd of protesters pushed a line of police into Parliament Square, as bottles were thrown in the direction of officers.
Another crowd then followed a group of officers to outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where protesters shouted “answer for your crimes” and “no justice, no peace”.
Officers formed two lines and rested their batons on their shoulders, shouting “get back” at protesters as they separated the crowds.
A reporter from Nine News Australia was also filmed abandoning his live broadcast to flee as tensions flared up.
Scotland Yard said two men were arrested at Downing Street on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker and violent disorder.
At the Hyde Park event, organisers provided masks and gloves to protesters who were asked to sit two metres apart unless they were from the same household.
They were also told to keep their arms stretched out to ensure social distancing.
Naomi Smith, one of the event organisers, told the PA news agency: “We want people to understand that people are dying from coronavirus and people are dying from racism.”
The 21-year-old said one of her reasons for protesting was Belly Mujinga, a railway worker who died with Covid-19 after reportedly being spat at by a man who said he was infected with the virus.
British Transport Police launched an investigation into her death but later said it would not be taking any further action.
Thousands of activists, including members of the railway worker’s family, descended on Victoria Station – where Ms Mujinga was working at the time of the spitting incident – holding a sign that read “Justice for Belly Mujinga”.
“I think that is my main reason for this, because she’s black she doesn’t have a voice right now,” Ms Smith said.
“This is our story, this is a UK story, this is what’s going on right now with us. George Floyd is in America, and we’re here for him as well.”
A spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour leader supported the “solidarity” being shown by UK demonstrators but urged them to uphold distancing rules by staying two metres apart.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that while she is “sickened” by George Floyd’s death, protesters must continue to be aware of the threat of coronavirus.
She tweeted: “I’m sickened at George Floyd’s death. But protests must be peaceful & in accordance with social distancing rules.
“This virus remains a threat to us all.”
And raising a point of order in the Commons, Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan said any MPs who have taken part in the protests in London and disobeyed social distancing rules should be disallowed from re-entering the Commons until after a period of self-isolation.
He said: “Are there measures in order to make such members who have flouted the law and are now possibly more likely to be contagious or indeed infected by the disease to be prevented from rejoining this House until they have undergone a period of self-isolation to ensure that we do not suffer a threat because of their aberrant behaviour?”