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Anti-internment march banned from Belfast city centre passes off peacefully

High profile dissident republican Colin Duffy attends march

By Rebecca Black

An anti-internment march banned from entering Belfast city centre has passed off peacefully amid a heavy police presence.

The parade was ordered to disperse at the Divis Street junction with Barrack Street.

<< watch as the parade meets police lines >>

The parade, which marks the anniversary of the introduction of detention without trial in Northern Ireland in 1971, had been planned to proceed to Belfast City Hall, from its starting point in Andersonstown.

Among those taking part is high-profile dissident republican Colin Duffy.

Organisers, the Anti-Internment League, voiced fury at the Parades Commission ruling, claiming the city centre is a shared space and that they planned their route to avoid interfaces.

A line of riot police stood in front of lines of armoured vehicles to block a main approach road.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin has said he is "pleased" the parade passed off peacefully.

The group applied for the march to include 5,000 participants and 5,000 supporters. However, the Parades Commission noted that just 800 people took part last August, and also claimed that organisers had not responded to queries about the change to the route.

The parade sparked serious rioting in 2013 which resulted in 56 police officers being injured in a night of chaos, and has since seen major security operations put in place. Last year there were clashes between the PSNI and republicans after police stopped the march from entering the city centre.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: "As in previous years, the foremost consideration of my officers today was to keep people safe and ensure that the parade passed off peacefully and within the law, that the rights of all those involved were protected and that the Parade’s Commission determination was upheld.

“While an appropriate and proportionate policing operation was put in place for these reasons, once the parade had dispersed, the area quickly returned to normal and all roads were re-opened.

“I would also like to thank Belfast’s District Commander Chief Superintendent Chris Noble and all the officers and staff involved in today’s policing operation. They did a professional job ensuring that the law was upheld, public safety was maintained and community disruption was kept to a minimum.”

Previously in a statement the Anti Internment League (AIL) described the ruling as "unjust" and said they were consulting with legal experts about launching a challenge.

"The commission has deemed that republicans are not worthy of demonstrating at City Hall, making a mockery of claims by politicians that equality has been achieved," they said. "This is despite the AIL taking the courageous steps of changing the route and time. This year's route avoids any interfaces, any Protestant places of worship. Our departure and dispersal times meant no impact on trade."

A Parades Commission spokesperson said its decision "had not been taken lightly. The deliberate breach of the timing condition, resulting in public disorder by the parade participants and/or supporters last year, has increased significantly the risks of the proposed parade this year as has the organiser's refusal to engage with the Commission," she said.

"The Commission has not received some essential information, specifically requested, about the proposed parade, including dispersal plans at City Hall, and no assurances about any aspect of the parade. The lack of assurances raises serious concerns about the organiser's genuine intention to hold a peaceful and lawful event."

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