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Dissidents and ex-soldiers Good Friday protest clash in Belfast

By Rebecca Black

Dissident republicans and former British soldiers are set to stage opposing demonstrations in Belfast city centre on Good Friday.

The march by Armed Forces veterans is one of a number of protests being held across the UK on April 14 calling for an end to the 'witch hunts' against ex-soldiers.

Veteran Alan Barry said there is anger over the pursuit of former soldiers and added: "Over the period of the last two years we have seen a number of different cases coming forward. These cases, our argument is, that the British Government and politicians effectively seem to be basing themselves in the position of appeasement at all costs.

"From our perspective there cannot be equivalence between those who commit murder as part of a political programme and those who open fire in self-defence operating under the direction of the government and the rule of law."

Last year former soldier Dennis Hutchings was charged in connection with a 1974 shooting in Northern Ireland, while two other soldiers will be tried in Belfast next year in relation to the shooting of Joe McCann in 1972.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday, Mr Barry insisted soldiers "always followed the rule of engagement" and if they did not, they were investigated and charged. "No soldier ever left barracks with the intention of committing murder. No soldier ever left barracks planning to commit murder," he said. "When we left barracks we left barracks on foot patrol and if we were fired upon, we returned fire and when we returned fire we had to adhere to the rules of engagement."

However, Saoradh Beal Feirste is calling for all republicans to join them for a "mass mobilisation" on Castle Street while the veterans hold their protest at Belfast City Hall.

The group, expressing "disgust" at plans by the veterans to hold a protest, said: "The fact that this is taking place as part of a supposed 'justice' campaign by those who slaughtered our people as part of a murder machine that still occupies our country is a disgusting demonstration of naked triumphalism."

A Veterans For Justice event in Londonderry in February was cancelled following threats by dissident republicans.

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