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Rival students clash at Oxford

world Updated: Nov 27, 2007 19:51 IST

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Rival students clashed at the prestigious Oxford University at a freedom of speech debate addressed by controversial writer David Irving and Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party.

Undergraduates with tickets to the event last night faced chants of "Nazi scum" and "shame on you" from hundreds of protesters from Oxford colleges and the Unite Against Fascism campaign group in a narrow street in central Oxford. Some protesters brandished placards and struck students trying to get into the debating chamber.

Minutes before the debate was due to begin, a group of protesters broke through the security cordon around the Union and staged a sit-down protest in the hall.

Police battled to bring the situation under control, while nervous students waited in the bar for the debate to begin. The demonstration forced Irving and Griffin to hold separate debates. Only half of the 500 audience expected were present.
Irving talked about his conviction in Austria for Holocaust denial and denied being anti-Semitic, while, in another chamber, Griffin spoke about immigration, libel laws and the public perception of the BNP.

He said they were regarded as "working class plebs". Referring to protesters outside, Griffin said: "This is a mob which would kill. I have seen them beat old men and women and try to kill them. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany they would have made splendid Nazis."

Luke Tryl, President of the Oxford Union Debating Society came under pressure to cancel the debate, but he insisted that Irving, who was jailed for his offence in Austria, and Griffin, who has been convicted of race offences, be allowed to speak.

Daniel Bloch, co-president of the University of Oxford's Jewish Society said that his members had worked with the Islamic Society to stage a strong protest.

"My main grievance about this debate is the accusation that we want to deny people free speech. We just don't want to give them any more platforms to air their views, which are disgraceful," he said.

The decision to invite Irving and Griffin, was made after a vote among members of the debating society, had drawn ire from Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and prompted a senior conservative MP to resign his life membership of the union.

Julian Lewis, the Shadow Defence Minister, said that the students should be ashamed. Des Browne, Defence Secretary and Evan Harris, a Lib Dem MP withdrew from participating in the debate.