Half of those arrested over clashes in Leicester from outside county | Leicester

Almost half of the 18 people arrested after violence between Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester over the weekend came from outside the county, the Guardian has learned.

Concerns that outsiders have stirred up trouble in the city have heightened as it was discovered eight of those arrested were not from Leicestershire. Of these, five came from Birmingham, while one came from Solihull, one from Luton and one gave an address in Hounslow.

Reacting to the news, Sir Peter Soulsby, the city’s mayor, said it appeared to be the first evidence that people were travelling into Leicester to take part in the clashes.

“It does suggest that there are people with other battles to fight who are coming to Leicester to fight them. It’s distressing that they choose to do it in our city. We pride ourselves on good relations between communities,” he told the Guardian.

He added: “I have talked to many people across the communities since this trouble began, and they are utterly baffled by this. It does not represent anything that is simmering in Leicester, and does seem to have more to do with subcontinental politics.”

The past weekend saw a tense standoff between groups of Muslim and Hindu men and the police on Saturday evening. A demonstration on Sunday took place in response to an unplanned protest of Hindu men on Saturday, who marched through the city.

The febrile atmosphere has been aggravated by videos circulating online over the weekend showing a man pulling down a flag outside a Hindu temple on Melton Road, Leicester, and another video of a flag being burned.

The High Commission of India released a statement on Twitter strongly condemning “the violence perpetrated against the Indian community in Leicester, and vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion”.

It added: “We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks.”

Earlier on Monday, Soulsby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that social media was exacerbating the tensions and there was “no obvious local cause” for such clashes in “an otherwise very peaceful city”.

“I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities,” he said.

Dharmesh Lakhani, who represents and works with Hindu temples across Leicester, confirmed one flag outside the Shivalaya temple in Belgrave Road was removed while the other was burned, describing it as “unacceptable”.

Of the incident, Lakhani said: “I’m really proud to say on that day, when the flag was removed, there was an Imam outside. He said I’m standing outside the mandir [temple], making sure nothing happens.”

Lakhani, who has also been working with mosques and local Muslim leaders in the area, urged for calm and dialogue on both sides, in a city he said had long been a sanctuary for Hindu and Muslim communities – who had lived side by side for decades.

Several arrests have been made over the past few weeks and a large number of people searched under section 60 stop-and-search powers, police said.

On Saturday, a group of Hindu men were filmed marching through Green Lane Road, where there are several Muslim-owned businesses and a Hindu temple close by.

Several eyewitnesses – corroborated by videos circulating on social media – said they saw hundreds of men wearing masks and balaclavas chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, which translates from Hindi to “hail Lord Ram” or “victory to Lord Ram”, a chant that has become synonymous with anti-Muslim violence in India.

Yasmin Surti, who has worked with the Leicester community for 30 years, said questions needed to be asked about why the police allowed the group to march through the city, as it made many local Muslims feel unsafe. The flag removal from the temple on Belgrave Road was “unhelpful”, Surti added, in an already tense situation.

“Hindus and Muslims in Leicester have been living together peacefully for many years,” she added.

Police have been quick to assert that violence that occurred after a cricket match between India and Pakistan in August was not initially along religious lines, contrary to csome social media posts.

“An incident was shared on social media stating that a Muslim was being attacked by Hindus. This was wrong – the victim was in fact Sikh and supported the same team as the people who assaulted him,” a police spokesperson said.

Gurharpal Singh, an emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab studies at Soas University of London and visiting fellow at the University at Leicester, said Leicester was a model of multiculturalism but there was an underlying divide.

“These tensions which have risen are now I think part of broader social change that is occurring within the city,” said Singh. “Also, one perhaps should not rule out the increasing influence of homeland politics, you know, the mobilisation of the diaspora by the BJP [Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party].”