Tempers frayed when hundreds of people took to the streets to protest against plans to house asylum-seekers in a Sussex hotel.

More than 250 people endured the rain to vent their anger against the proposal.

Meanwhile, campaigners sympathetic to the asylum-seekers stood on the opposite side of the street, accusing them of scaremongering.

Police moved in when a 45-year-old woman dressed in a camel coat crossed the road to confront protesters, waving her own banner and urging residents to put themselves in the asylum-seekers' shoes.

As the crowd shouted "go home" and "do-gooder", a scuffle broke out when she grabbed a protest poster and tore it up. She was, in turn, hit over the head with a placard.

Officers escorted the woman away for her own safety as she was harangued by a protester dressed as Osama Bin Laden.

Passing motorists honked their horns to show support for those lining the road outside the Grand Ocean Hotel in Saltdean.

Banners read "Our village is not Sangatte", "Saltdean can't Cope" and "Homes for our elderly not for phoney asylum-seekers. We have taken enough Mr Blair."

Most residents heaped blame on the Government for its mishandling of the situation and called for more openness on exactly who would be using the hotel.

The Home Office wants to use the Grand Ocean for emergency accommodation despite denying the plan when it was first revealed by The Argus in November last year.

At present, the project is on ice following a storm of protest from residents, even though the Government retracted its earlier statement and said it wanted to use the hotel after all.

Among the campaigners was resident Marc Curtis, who said Saltdean did not have the infrastruct-ure to take asylum-seekers in, adding: "How do you differentiate between asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants?"

Phyllis Dunn is one of many elderly residents living opposite the hotel.

She said: "We're scared to death. Everybody in these flats is over 80 and some are in their 90s. Some say they'll be afraid to go to the post office and get their pension."

The protest was organised through the Saltdean Residents' Association.

Committee vice-chairman Liz Kempshall said people were angry at the lack of consultation, adding: "If we knew the truth it would help considerably.

"I think this has come at a very bad time in the national press with the ricin and everything and a lot of elderly people are quite terrified."

Resident Amanda Meighan said: "People have had enough. We're not against genuine asylum seekers but against those who don't have a right to be here that the Government are letting in."

But other residents gathered opposite to voice their own protest at attitudes towards asylum-seekers and the "scaremongering" surrounding the issue.

Steve Waters, a former local GP, said: "I've lived in Saltdean for 15 years and some of these protesters are my ex-patients.

"I think there needs to be a rational debate, not irrational scaremongering. I feel we need to respect our fellow human beings."

Simon Williams, community affairs spokesperson for the Green Party, said: "Many of these asylum-seekers are vulnerable women and children and have had traumatic journeys. This is a chance to show a welcoming side to our city.

"Local people do need to be reassured but let us take it stage by stage and ensure the Government provides the resources so no one loses out."

Saltdean councillor Liz Lee said: "My children are mixed race and I do not want them growing up with hatred around them. But the Government are so at fault in this. The whole situation has been handled badly."

Despite feelings running high on both sides, the rest of the protest passed by peacefully and no arrests were made.