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Anti-internment parade organisers must bear responsibility for Belfast violence, says Martin McGuinness

By Joanne Fleming

Martin McGuinness has said the organisers of an anti-internment parade in Belfast must bear full responsibility for the violence that followed.

Nationalists threw petrol bombs, stones and bottles at police after the parade was prevented from reaching the city centre.

As missiles rained down, PSNI water cannon were deployed at the flashpoint between the Oldpark Road and Rosapenna Street. Four people were arrested.

Traders were left counting the cost after a ring of steel made getting to the main shopping area difficult, with many customers and tourists staying away.

The parade had been stopped after it breached a Parades Commission ruling that it must pass Millfield junction by 1.30pm.

However, the march did not start until around 2pm. Soon afterwards it was stopped by police on the Oldpark Road, with police announcing they were upholding the Parade Commission's ruling.

The republican bands and supporters were urged to behave responsibly by organisers, as they gathered beforehand in a peaceful atmosphere at Ardoyne Avenue. They shouted their disapproval as they were stopped by a line of police Land Rovers, but they listened to anti-internment speeches before beginning to disperse without incident.

Soon after the event broke up, violence erupted at the Rosapenna Street junction. It appeared mostly youths were involved.

Earlier, loyalist counter-demonstrators protested at Royal Avenue, but dispersed when word spread that police were not letting the parade into the city.

Nevertheless, trading on Royal Avenue was hit badly in the early part of the afternoon as Land Rovers and armed riot police flooded the city centre. Temporary armoured police road barriers were erected across countless streets, making travel difficult.

The march was organised by the Anti-Internment League to mark the introduction of detention without trial at the height of the Troubles.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Those who organised today's so-called anti-internment demonstration in Belfast bear full responsibility for the violence which followed."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers praised the police response and said: "It was totally unacceptable that today's rally breached the Parades Commission determination. Violence will not be tolerated."

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey accused the organisers of making a "deliberate decision" to breach the timing conditions imposed on the march. "The organisers of this parade of shame have succeeded only in increasing inter-community tensions, causing huge expense for a massive policing operation and disrupting our city centre trade," he said.

Earlier, police made a direct appeal to the event organisers to discuss the route and its timing.

They said they had made attempts to talk to the group, but had not been successful.

At the same event two years ago, 26 officers were injured when loyalist protesters launched an attack on police. A statement by the Anti-Internment League yesterday said: "All march participants behaved peacefully and with dignity when facing down the armed wing of the State, before we took the responsible decision to march back into the Ardoyne area, avoiding a flashpoint of the PSNI's own making."

Responding to the trouble in north Belfast on Sunday afternoon, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: "Due to the parade acting unlawfully, in breach of the Parade's Commission determination, police intervened and stopped it on the Oldpark Road.

"After a period of time most people dispersed peacefully, but unfortunately some were intent on engaging in disorder and a number of missiles and petrol bombs were thrown at police in the area of Rosapenna Street. Water cannon was used in the area to manage the disorder and a number of officers sustained minor injuries.

"A 53-year-old male was arrested for common assault and disorderly behaviour in College Square East. Two males, 24 and 21 years, were arrested for offences related to the supply of petrol bombs. Police also recovered a container filled with petrol. A 36-year-old female was also arrested for riotous behaviour in the area."

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