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August 10, 2013 12:00 pm
Fifty six police officers were injured when serious loyalist rioting engulfed Belfast city centre in violence linked to a contentious republican parade.
Five of the officers required hospital treatment and there were reports that a number of members of the public were also injured.
The disorder first flared in the Royal Avenue area, a usually busy shopping district close to City Hall, as hundreds of loyalist demonstrators gathered to protest at the rally to mark the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The organisers of the Anti-Internment League parade had been given permission for the event from the Parades Commission adjudication body.
As loyalists attempted to block the route, riot police were attacked with a sustained barrage of bricks, bottles, fireworks, metal guttering ripped from shop fronts and pint glasses apparently raided from a nearby bar.
Unrest soon spread as the parade approached from north Belfast. There were reports of clashes involving loyalists and republicans close to a junction leading to the unionist Shankill Road, while a number of parked vehicles were set on fire in the nearby North Street area.
Police deployed two water cannons and fired more than 20 plastic baton rounds in a bid to quell the disorder.
The parade was unable to pass down Royal Avenue as intended. After a significant delay, it did finally proceed along the outskirts of the city centre and onward to west Belfast.
However, trouble continued in its wake.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton condemned those responsible for the violence.
“Whilst facilitating the Parades Commission determination for tonight’s parade and associated protests, police have come under heavy and sustained attack by crowds intent on creating disorder,” he said.
“As Northern Ireland moves ahead, the effect of tonight’s violence has the potential to damage the local economy and the reputation of Belfast as a tourist destination.
“As disturbances are continuing, I would call upon people of influence in communities and those in political leadership to do all possible to reduce tension.”
The latest disorder comes after eight officers were injured when trouble flared at a republican anti-internment bonfire near the city centre on Thursday night. Eight people were arrested and at one point, as violence spread to north Belfast, officers were attacked by a man wielding a sword.
The trouble in Belfast has broken out at an unfortunate time for tourist chiefs and civic leaders as the city is currently hosting thousands of international visitors attending the World Police and Fire Games.
Less than a month ago, parts of Belfast were consumed by rioting, predominantly loyalist, triggered when Orangemen were prevented from parading past the nationalist Ardoyne area in the north of the city.
Parading tensions have also spread elsewhere in Northern Ireland with major controversy surrounding a planned Sinn Féin-backed commemoration event in the County Tyrone town of Castlederg this Sunday for local IRA members killed during the conflict.
Ulster Unionist Assembly member Michael Copeland, a representative from East Belfast, has claimed he and members of his family were assaulted by police in Royal Avenue.
Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland accused republicans of staging the parade to provoke a loyalist reaction.
“Tonight was a bad night for Belfast,” he said. “What should have been a great week for the city, with thousands of visitors for the World Police and Fire Games, has ended badly and the image of Northern Ireland has been tarnished by violence.”
Labour’s shadow minister for Northern Ireland, Stephen Pound, condemned the violence.
“We have seen sad scenes again in Belfast tonight, which have become too familiar over recent months,” he said.
“The vast majority of people across the community will unite to condemn attacks on the police and the public disorder we have seen. But unfortunately this is not an isolated occurrence. Northern Ireland can’t afford to slip back to causal violence or acceptance of it.
“Both the governments and political leaders in Northern Ireland need to show leadership and address what are becoming far too common scenes.”
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