Orange demo over parade restriction
Members of the Orange Order have staged a peaceful protest in north Belfast after restrictions were imposed on their parade.
Bands played music, supporters cheered and sang and demonstrators carried a large protest banner as they were halted a short distance from the nationalist Ardoyne area. Some supporters held Union flag umbrellas against the rain.
Today marks the culmination of the loyal order marching season when thousands of members commemorate the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The sectarian interface in north Belfast has been a flashpoint for violence in recent years, but this time appeals for no trouble were issued by a wide coalition of unionist leaders, including First Minister Peter Robinson, as well as nationalists.
The Parades Commission, a government-appointed body that adjudicates on marches which has become anathema to loyalists , decided loyal order members should not be allowed to continue past the contested section of Ardoyne.
Last year a similar decision sparked days of loyalist rioting and pitched battles with police, while in earlier years republicans became violent after a small number of Orangemen were allowed to proceed.
At the 17 main parades across Northern Ireland, marchers stopped for six minutes - the time it would take to complete the Ardoyne parade - and a statement was read out calling for the commission to be scrapped.
A major security operation has been put in place.
With the bill for policing parades and flag disputes in Northern Ireland over the last 20 months standing at around £55 million, there has been a significant effort to avoid further trouble this year.
Almost 700 people were charged or reported to prosecutors in Northern Ireland last year in relation to parade and protest-related disorder.
This year has been relatively peaceful, although o ne man was stabbed on the Ormeau Bridge during fighting between rival Catholic and Protestant gangs of around 40 people in south Belfast early today.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the victim, 28, was taken to hospital but his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.
A PSNI spokesman said: "At approximately 3.10am, police received a report that a man had been stabbed and that rival factions were fighting in the area.
"Police attended the area and the two groups were separated at approximately 3.30am. Police stayed in the area for several more hours to ensure that the area remained calm."
The force arrested eight men overnight in relation to a number of sectarian disturbances across Belfast. Six have since been charged with public order offences.
Tens of thousands of Orangemen and their supporters marched at venues across Northern Ireland, with the overwhelming majority of parades being peaceful.
Meanwhile, the PSNI said a package found at the main postal sorting office in Northern Ireland was an explosive device.
The letter bomb was found at the distribution centre at Mallusk on the northern outskirts of Belfast early today. Army bomb disposal experts made the device safe.
In the recent past dissident republican organisations opposed to the peace process have sent letter bomb-type devices to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, the offices of the power-sharing government at Stormont, and Army recruitment centres in England.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was pleased that the parades had passed off largely successfully and that those taking part were able to enjoy their day.
He added: "This has been due to a number of factors, including responsible leadership from a range of groups such as the Orange Order. I welcome the repeated pleas from the Orange Order and politicians from all sides for all parades and protests to be peaceful and lawful.
"Our focus, as I have said since my appointment, is on keeping communities safe and our job has been made immensely easier today by the responsible attitude of all parties concerned.
"We have had a quiet and peaceful parading season up to and including today and I hope that this continues for the rest of the summer. I hope that people continue to take responsibility for their own actions and they need to understand that, as I've said throughout the past couple of weeks, the police will do our piece to keep people safe and also to collect evidence where people step outside of the law."
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds praised the leadership which brought about the peaceful outcome.
He said: "The Orange institution, community leaders and political representatives have worked tirelessly and unitedly to create the context for tonight's successful conclusion.
"Despite severe provocation from republican elements and the scandalous decision of the Parades Commission, the world has witnessed a traditional Belfast Twelfth and a peaceful, lawful and effective protest this evening on the Woodvale Road.
"Tolerance and respect must be the key ingredients moving forwards.
"Work will continue to ensure that republican threats of violence are not allowed to dictate future developments.
In north Belfast we will continue to work together to build on today's peaceful Twelfth."