The English Defence League (EDL) wants more Muslims and fewer neo-Nazis in its ranks, the group's new chairman has said.

Tim Ablitt claimed that a Muslim woman even wanted to attend a march by the EDL in Exeter later this month.

Ablitt told IBTimes UK: "We were contacted by a Muslim woman - she sent a message saying she wants to attend [the Exeter march]. We have to provide some protection and we are hoping to facilitate her attending."

Ablitt revealed his surprise recruitment drive as the EDL tried to recover from the loss of its founder and leader, Tommy Robinson.

Robinson, real named Stephen Yaxley Lennon, and his deputy Kevin Carroll suddenly resigned in October.

Robinson claimed that neo-Nazis had overrun the controversial street protest group, which has been accused of being a racist organisation. Abblit denied the claim and insisted: "We definitely want to get more Muslims in the EDL."

He said: "Yes, there will be some resistance but we had the same with Sikhs and Hindus and Asians when they started joining. Now they are a growing part of the membership."

But he insisted the EDL's signature virulent anti-Islam ethos would stay: "Our message is that we will not tolerate extremist Islam and we want to open up to everyone. It's not Muslims who are the problem, it's the book they follow."

Steps to clear out extremists from the ranks led to up to 50 "Hitler-loving, Nazi boot-lickers" been driven out, claimed Ablitt.

He revealed that January has been slated as the launch date for EDL version 2.0. "I cannot tell you how much I detest them," Ablitt said of the group's neo-Nazi element.

"If someone unfurls a far right banner then they are getting told where to go.

"There are always problems, but the regional organisers (ROs) are on the same sheet now. My first role as chairman was at [a march in] Bradford and there we saw seven white-pride Nazi banners taken away. It did not come from the police - we did it ourselves. We do not want and we do not need those idiots."

Ablitt is the chairman of a lead group comprising ROs who coordinate the group's activities and official message. Ablitt claimed that the new group was in control - but a glance at various social media pages quickly reveals that not everyone has got the message to welcome Muslims.

He admitted: "There's probably not much appetite for that at the moment. But the more sensible people know there's got to be some form of communication. We are turning the corner and its going better than I thought it would."