BREAKING THROUGH (Irish Republican News)

Up to ten thousand republicans, socialists and concerned citizens took part in a civil rights march against internment through Belfast this evening despite heavy rioting by loyalists and a political campaign to demonise those taking part.

The planned march along a neutral city centre route from nationalist areas in north Belfast to west Belfast was not considered contentious. But tensions had increased during the week after it was revealed that almost a thousand loyalists had been given permission to hold ‘protests’ along the parade route.

The Parades Commission appeared to have been hoodwinked into believing legal protests were planned when it permitted a number of previously unknown groups to mass along the parade route.

Two so-called ‘residents groups’ were granted permission to stage a protest involving an estimated 300 people at Royal Avenue, where the worst of the violence broke out. A further four protests were held by other Protestant organisations including the Orange Order, adding a further six hundred loyalists into the mix.

Long before the parade made its way into Belfast city centre, hooded flag-waving loyalists blocked the road and rioting erupted along Royal Avenue.

Shocked tourists looked on as bricks, bottles, stones and fireworks showered a showpiece city centre boulevard known for its shops, restaurants and bars. The police responded with water cannon and a small number of plastic bullets, while dogs were used to attempt to control the loyalists.

Business premises were attacked and bins were set alight amid the disturbances. However, the riots only served to draw attention to a hugely successful parade and the incoherent rage of loyalism.

While the original, neutral city centre route through Royal Avenue was blocked off, marchers were ironically directed by the PSNI through the intersection of Peter’s Hill and Carrick Hill, passing an interface with the loyalist Shankil Road.

The parade was briefly attacked at the intersection where a burning barricade had been erected. However, it ultimately made it down Millfield to a rendezvous with thousands more cheering supporters in the Divis area of west Belfast.

Organisers successfully appealed for calm from marchers. Amid a lull in the trouble, civil rights activist Dee Fennell said the media had wrongly portrayed the parade.

“This is a parade over a human rights issue, not a republican parade and certainly not a dissident republican parade.”

He said the march had been organised by the Anti-Internment League, and that he is not aligned to any republican group. He said political activists are being held for up to two years on remand before having charges dropped or beating them in court.

“It’s a way to get activists off the streets for two years,” Mr Fennell said. “People think internment is a thing of the past, but only the way it is used has changed. It is now more selective.”

Riot police injured in Belfast clashes (UTV)

Four police officers and two members of the public have been injured in violent clashes as hundreds of loyalists demonstrated in Belfast ahead of an anti-internment rally.

A PSNI spokeswoman said two officers were taken to hospital while two others were treated at the scene at the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street.

Police also received report of two members of the public who have received injuries.

A number of parked vehicles have also been set on fire in the North Street area.

Police have responded with two water cannon and 20 baton rounds in a bid to restore calm.

Police have advised to avoid the areas of Carrick Hill, Peters Hill and Millfield areas of north Belfast as they continue to deal with serious public disorder.

Commenting on the disorder, PSNI ACC Hamilton 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.”

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.

PSNI ACC George Hamilton
Police have advised to avoid the areas of Carrick Hill, Peters Hill and Millfield areas of north Belfast as they continue to deal with serious public disorder.

Thousands of people are taking part in the Anti-Internment League event while a total of six loyalist organisations are holding protests against the rally being allowed to go ahead.

The parade was stopped briefly at North Queen Street before being let through – there was then a standoff between the parade and loyalist demonstrators.

Missiles have been thrown from both sides at police lines. Water cannon was used at the bottom of the Shankill Road to keep the crowd apart from the rally, which then moved on towards west Belfast.

Local DUP Cllr Brian Kingston, who was on the scene on Friday night, said: “(The) parade in the name of physical force republicanism was offensive to many and unnecessary at a time of heightened tension.

“It should have been severely restricted. Scenes of violence are very disappointing and damaging to our city.”

The parade route started at Ardoyne Avenue moving along the Oldpark Road, Rosapenna Street, the Cliftonville Road, through the New Lodge and into the city centre.

It then passed Royal Avenue, Castle Street onto the Falls Road towards Andersonstown.

Organisers had previously appealed for calm.

Dee Fennell said: “This is a parade over a human rights issue, not a republican parade and certainly not a dissident republican parade.”

Motorists are advised to avoid North Queen Street between the Clifton Street and Duncairn Gardens junctions due to the ongoing parade.

Two loyalists residents groups were granted permission to stage a counter protest – involving an estimated 300 people – at Royal Avenue.

A further four protests are planned by other Protestant organisations including No 2 District Loyal Orange Lodge, and aim to attract a further 600 demonstrators.

They were given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission, but with restrictions on the numbers of supporters to be allowed.

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