LONDON (AP) — King Charles III on Sunday led a national memorial service honoring those who died serving the United Kingdom — an event that passed without incident despite fears that tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war might disrupt the ceremony.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service deployed more than double the usual number of officers to safeguard the event and put a 24-hour guard around the national war memorial, known as the Cenotaph, to ensure it wasn’t defaced.
The annual service, during which thousands of veterans paraded past the Cenotaph, came after a week of debate over calls to cancel a massive pro-Palestinian march on Saturday out of respect for the weekend’s memorial events. While the march was largely peaceful, police clashed with far-right counter-protesters who tried to disrupt it.
Police on Saturday arrested about 120 people. They described them as mostly soccer “hooligans” from around the U.K. who spent the day confronting officers trying to keep them away from the march. Nine officers were injured, including two who were hospitalized.
“Recent events have served as a stark reminder that we cannot take the hard-earned peace we live in for granted, which is why I am honored to lay a wreath on behalf of the nation in the memory of all those that have lost their lives defending our country and the values we hold so close,’’ Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a prepared statement. “I am determined to ensure we never forget the ultimate sacrifice they have made.”
Sunak is facing calls to fire Home Secretary Suella Braverman, one of the most senior members of his Cabinet, after she was accused of inflaming tensions with her comments about the pro-Palestinian march. Braverman last week suggested police had been more lenient with recent pro-Palestinian protests, which she described as “hate marches,” than with demonstrations favoring right-wing causes.
Sunday’s ceremony, a central event on the national calendar, passed without incident.
The king, wearing the uniform of the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, including a grey greatcoat against the cold, laid a wreath featuring 41 open-style fabric poppies. The flowers are Britain’s traditional symbol of remembrance, recalling the poppies made famous by the poem “In Flanders Fields” during World War I.
The Prince of Wales, who wore the officer’s cloak of The Blues and Royals in the rank of lieutenant colonel, also laid a wreath, as did other family members.
Soon after, some 10,000 veterans and 800 serving members of the military marched past the Cenotaph to honor their fallen comrades. The veterans, some more than 100 years old, paraded down the road leading to the Houses of Parliament before laying their own wreaths at the foot of the memorial.