Belfast Telegraph

Belfast sends clear message to the racists as 6,000 rally in support of fear-hit migrants

By Cate McCurry

A pastor at the centre of a storm after he described Islam as Satanic made no reference to the massive controversy his remarks stoked in his Sunday sermon.

Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle was forced to issue a public apology after he described Islam as a "doctrine spawned in Hell".

Meanwhile, thousands of people filled the streets of Belfast to attend an anti-racism rally following a spate of recent attacks on ethnic minorities and the controversy over Pastor McConnell's comments.

The Shore Road preacher had been invited to attend Saturday's colourful and noisy demonstration organised by trade unions, but did not appear.

More than 6,000 people who braved the pouring rain to gather at Writers' Square, where trade union and church representatives called for "action, not words" from politicians over the issue.

The new Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nichola Mallon, also attended and said people were sending a "clear message" that there was no place for racism in the city. She added: "They came out intheir droves regardless of the rain to put out there the true face of Belfast.

"There has been a significant outpouring of support and solidarity for our citizens who have been attacked and who live in fear of being attacked, and I don't think that can go ignored."

Among those in attendance were Dr Donald Watts, president of the Irish Council of Churches; and Dr Mazhar M Khan, a leader from the Muslim community in Northern Ireland.

Organisers described it as the most diverse rally Northern Ireland had ever seen, and said it had been designed to reassure ethnic and religious minorities here.

Pastor McConnell was quizzed by police officers for two hours in Newtownabbey police station on Friday following his controversial remarks. He also issued a public apology.

The row had enveloped First Minister Peter Robinson, who backed the evangelical preacher.

However, the DUP leader also made a public apology after visiting Muslim leaders at the Belfast Islamic Centre.

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