Belfast protest over 'witch-hunt' against Troubles soldiers - where is the justice? asks MLA Doug Beattie
Veterans of the Northern Ireland Troubles and of conflict around the world held a protest in Belfast over what they describe as a "witch-hunt" against soldiers.
Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans organised the event on Friday morning.
There were similar rallies planned for London and Glasgow by a campaign group formed in response to a number of recent prosecutions of former soldiers in relation to incidents during the region's sectarian conflict.
Addressing the crowd at Belfast City Hall, MLA and former soldier Doug Beattie said it "wasn't fair" a soldier prosecuted for an offence prior to 1998 would be facing a lifetime in prison when those convicted of terrorist offences would be jailed for a maximum of two years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Where is the soldiers' right to life? Where are their investigations?" He said.
He said those protesting the rally had the right to do so as soldiers "had fought for that very right".
"We all deserve justice," he added.
"But let's not focus purely on the military and what we did."
Dissident group Saoradh Béal Feirste paraded from Castle Street to Donegall Place, where it was stopped by a police line, just short of the veterans' rally.
Saoradh, which means liberation in Irish, was formed in 2016 with the backing of dissident republican prisoners. It counts high-profile Co Armagh republican Colin Duffy among its supporters. The hard-line republican group organised its own march against the "presence of a British Army parade in Belfast".
Ahead of the event, PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said an "appropriate and proportionate policing operation" will be put in place to ensure Parades Commission rulings are upheld.
Last year, two former soldiers were told they will be prosecuted for murder over the 1972 death of official IRA commander Joe McCann. Another prominent case involves retired soldier Dennis Hutchings. The 75-year-old is to face trial accused of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to a fatal shooting in 1974.
Hutchings, from Torpoint in Cornwall, is due to address the veterans' rally in London.
Protest to disperse earlier than expected in Belfast following national anthem.. pic.twitter.com/TcnYdB9p2N— Brett Campbell (@BrettcOfficial) April 14, 2017
"These protests will not stop until our veterans stop being hounded for what they were sent here to do" Jim McCaw, former UDR and RIR pic.twitter.com/f1tFG6MsM9— Brett Campbell (@BrettcOfficial) April 14, 2017
#Belfast: Donegal Place has been closed to traffic and some minor congestion on Donegal Square North, road users are asked to avoid.— Trafficwatch NI (@TrafficwatchNI) April 14, 2017
Loud cheers as veterans say "we are not going away" pic.twitter.com/11Eqm4VZpu— Brett Campbell (@BrettcOfficial) April 14, 2017
Protesters are just yards away from Saoradh counter protesters who have accused the former veterans of defending imperialist terrorism pic.twitter.com/3JqaL44wH7— Brett Campbell (@BrettcOfficial) April 14, 2017
Hundreds of veterans are gathering at Belfast City Hall in protest of a "legal witchunt" against former security members pic.twitter.com/JtciIhdc83— Brett Campbell (@BrettcOfficial) April 14, 2017
Contrasting scenes on opposites of the road in front of City Hall. pic.twitter.com/fC03IoUBJf— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) April 14, 2017
Scenes at Belfast City Hall ahead of Justice for NI Veterans rally. Counter demo by republicans also planned. pic.twitter.com/X7uYDPcK4b— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) April 14, 2017