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LONDON: The chief of London’s Metropolitan Police on Tuesday hit back at criticism from the British prime minister over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests in the city since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Rishi Sunak on Friday made a speech about the rise of extremism in the UK, in which he accused the Met of managing, not policing, the demonstrations.

“This week I have met with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them,” the prime minister said.

“And I say this to the police, we will back you when you take action.”

Numerous protests have been held in London and other UK cities following Israel’s military response to the Hamas attack, in which 1,200 people were killed. More than 30,000 civilians have since been killed in Gaza.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, during a session with the London Policing Board on Tuesday, said Sunak’s comments were inaccurate, adding that while most protests were peaceful, his officers often felt undermined and some had faced death threats.

“We’re always operating in a very challenging political environment where tensions remain high and hate crime is still a long way above pre-Oct. 7 levels,” Rowley said.

“Policing is used to being criticized. But where it isn’t justified, I do worry about the impact it has on our officers and staff, and on public confidence as we strive to operate without fear or favor.

“So, despite warm words, officers do not feel supported. And that is degrading their confidence and willingness to act in a whole range of situations. Not only protest.”

Rowley said the cost of policing the protests since October had reached £30 million ($38.1 million) and he urged Sunak’s government to bear some if not all of the cost, adding that resources had been pulled away from fighting other crime as a result.

The commissioner highlighted how criticism of the police’s handling of the protests from the left and right wings of British politics had made his officers’ jobs harder. He made reference to former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s “two-tier policing” accusations of the Met’s clamping down harder on far-right protesters than on anti-war demonstrators.

“At the moment, one side of the debate seems to say that we are guilty of two-tier policing and the other side says that we are oppressive and clamping down on the right to freedom of speech,” he said.

“In this context of polarized public debate, I do think sometimes that we’re the first people who are able to be labeled simultaneously woke and fascists.

“To suggest that we are not, where the law permits, as the law allows, policing robustly, is inaccurate. At each of the major protests where the majority have been peaceful, we’ve seen wrongdoing and we’ve acted.

“We have to police the law as it is, not as others would wish it to be.”

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