Clashes erupt in Belfast as marching season heats up

Author: By Tom Peck

Nationalist protesters threw firebombs, fireworks and other improvised weapons at Northern Ireland police in the hardline Catholic district of Ardoyne as the officers cleared the way for a parade of about 1,000 Protestants from the Orange Order brotherhood and their marching bands.

In Armagh, a bomb exploded on a road away from the parade route. Police said no one was injured.

Police responded to the violence in Ardoyne with water cannons and charges by riot police. A female police officer was injured. Three other officers were injured when youths attacked them during a return parade at Rasharkin. One man was arrested. Elsewhere, a 30-year-old woman is understood to have died after being hit by a car leaving an Orange parade in Killyleagh. A nine-year-old boy sustained a leg injury in the same incident and was taken to hospital.

An Orange Order spokesman said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the young woman and her family at this time.” The woman, believed to be a member of a flute band, was airlifted to hospital in Belfast.

The violence in Ardoyne was the worst during the day-long parades by the Orange Order.

The Armagh bomb exploded on Friary Road as Protestant hardliners paraded across the British territory. No group has claimed responsibility but police and politicians supsect Irish republican dissidents.

The Orange Order was marching on a different road when security forces spotted the suspected bomb. Police Chief Inspector Ken Mawhinney said: “This was a very dangerous act carried out by those with a total disregard for the people of Armagh. These people do not care about the possible outcome of their criminal activities, they must be isolated.”

Police said the bomb exploded before army experts could defuse it.

Thousands of Orangemen and women attend 12 July parades part of an annual celebration in Northern Ireland which was held a day late this year because the date fell on a Sunday.

Members, bands and supporters took part in 18 demonstrations. The parades, which commemorate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, were tense events throughout the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties but have been largely peaceful since 2005.

The Orange Order’s three “flagship” parades this year were in Banbridge, Bangor and Larne. For the first time, most shops in Belfast city stayed open. Stores closed again in the late afternoon when Orangemen and women were making their return journey.

At the 12th demonstration in Bangor, County Down, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Drew Nelson, said nationalists and republicans needed to reach out to Orangemen and women. He said the “goodwill and respect to the nationalist and republican community” which the Order had shown had not been returned.

His order had been the target of unprovoked attacks, he said, and had been compared with the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr Nelson laid down a challenge to the political leadership of nationalist and republican movements to show “a greater understanding and tolerance of the Orange institution”.

The Independent reported on Saturday that the Polish, Indian and Islamic communities in Belfast had received threats that their buildings would be burned unless they left the country by 12 July. Last night, the threats, purportedly from dissident republicans and Combat 18, had not been carried out.

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