Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Protesters 'united' in divided city

Police on patrol during a rally in Belfast city centre

Never before has the Palestinian flag flown so close to the colours of Israel in such a divided and tense city as Belfast.

As anti-G8 protesters railed against Western arming of rebels in Syria and a host of historical wrongs, a loyalist just feet away cradled the Union Flag and declared: "I don't care" and shouted "Up the Jews" as he loudly sang "God Save the Queen."

It took next week's G8 summit, 90 miles away in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, to bring together such a disparate crowd of demonstrators. They predicted a gathering of up to 5,000, but fewer than half that number turned up in the rain outside the closed gates of Belfast City Hall.

Even though the Union Flag flew from the top of the city's most iconic building, loyalists opposed to having it lowered at any time turned up to meet the trade unionists after they paraded through the main thoroughfare.

Masses of peace activists, environmentalists and trade unionists gathered to demand a fairer world free of poverty, human rights abuses and environmental degradation.

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan said: "Don't think the children of Syria are crying out for more G8 guns and missiles, the children of Syria want the same as the children of Northern Ireland, they are crying out for peace." He told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a reference to the jailing of the Pussy Riot demonstrators: "Some of us may not look it, but this is a punk city."

The atmosphere was more carnival than Sex Pistols as men, women and children danced and walked the half mile through the city centre clutching banners and wearing brightly coloured union stickers or clinging to giant purple balloons which looked like they could carry them away.

Hundreds of police were on duty - many brought in specially from Great Britain to police G8 events - but the burly lines of green uniformed officers stayed stationary as the procession passed peacefully to the front of the century-old City Hall.

Activists demanding reforms and freedom of speech in Turkey and Zimbabwe mingled with those bearing a 100m long "poisoned river" made out of cloth and highlighting the potential impact of gas extraction known as fracking close to the summit venue in Fermanagh.

Amnesty International supporters carried "Putin Stop Jailing Free Speech" placards and the Connolly Youth Movement proclaimed No War but Class War Fight G8. Some Guantanamo Bay "prisoners" were dressed in orange jump suits and demonstrators carried an Israeli "wall" dividing the country from the West Bank. Members of the Socialist Party chanted: "David Cameron, Thatcher's son, we will fight you, we will win."

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