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Police hurt in Orange march clashes

Published 13/07/2015

Water cannon is used on Loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast
Water cannon is used on Loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast
Police line up in front of Loyalist protesters on the Crumlin Road, Belfast
A woman is comforted by Father Gary Donegan after a car was overturned on the Crumlin Road, Belfast (Police officer's face pixelated at request of PSNI)

A number of police officers have been injured after loyalists rioted in Belfast when a contentious Orange Order parade was halted.

The disturbances broke out at a volatile community interface in the north of the city as police prevented Orangemen and loyalist bands marching from the unionist Woodvale area toward the nationalist Ardoyne.

As loyalists attacked police on the unionist side of the police line, on the nationalist side a teenage girl standing in a crowd was injured when she was apparently struck by a car. The driver has been arrested.

At least eight officers were injured in tonight's violence at the notorious sectarian flashpoint. A tense stand-off continued tonight.

Police deployed water canon in a bid to quell the loyalist unrest.

At the Ardoyne, t here were chaotic scenes as police reportedly lifted the car off the injured 16-year-old girl.

The Orange Order condemned the rioters and appealed for calm.

"Those involved in violence should desist," said a spokesman for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

"It is not only counter-productive but also plain wrong. Such actions are only strengthening the hand of those who wish to further curtail our parades. We call on anyone engaged in illegal behaviour to stop immediately."

Riot squad officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) bore the brunt of loyalist anger when they blocked access to the contested stretch of the Crumlin Road.

Within minutes of the parade reaching the police lines this evening, empty bottles, bricks and metal bolts rained down on police.

At one point a number of loyalists broke through police barricades and started dancing on the bonnets of PSNI armoured land rovers.

Loyalist bandsmen played the sectarian Famine Song, which is played to the same tune as the Beach Boys' Sloop John B, but with anti-Catholic lyrics. They also played well-known loyalist tune The Sash.

Women and children mixed among the bandsmen and Orange Orange members in the massed crowd barracking the police lines.

The violence followed a day of largely peaceful Twelfth of July holiday loyal order parades across Northern Ireland - the highlight of the loyalist marching season.

There was a report of a bus carrying Orangemen being stoned in Greysteel, Co Londonderry, and police said a female officer was assaulted in Belfast city centre this afternoon.

A massive security operation had been mounted at the Woodvale/Ardoyne sectarian interface, where dissident republicans have gathered to attack police in the past.

The Government-appointed Parades Commission - set up to rule on contentious marches - had issued a determination barring Orangemen from a section of the Crumlin Road.

Last year there was no rioting but, in 2013 - when restrictions were first imposed on the Orange parade - mass violence erupted in the unionist Woodvale area.

Since then, loyalists have manned a protest camp and staged nightly parades at Woodvale, requiring a policing operation costing millions.

In previous years republicans rioted when the parade was allowed to pass up the road on the way back from Belfast's main Twelfth commemoration.

Ahead of the Twelfth senior police commanders expressed concern that Orange Order and other loyalist groups had withdrawn marshals who helped keep the peace last year.

Unlike last year, there was not a joint call from a broad range of unionist and loyalist political parties, including two with links to paramilitary groups, for the Twelfth to pass off peacefully and lawfully.

However, there were calls for calm from individual political representatives and leaders of the Orange institution.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the teenage girl's injuries were not life threatening.

The North Belfast Assembly member said people were "disappointed" the situation deteriorated into violence and appealed for community leadership.

"Political representatives across the board should be calling for calm," he said.

Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Ivan Lewis said the violent scenes were a "serious step backwards for stability in Northern Ireland".

"Police and security professionals, as well as members of the public, have endured unacceptable levels of violence and disorder," he said.

"The small minority determined to return to the bad old days must not be allowed to prosper. Politicians and community leaders should reiterate their support for the rule of law and condemn the violence without fear or favour."

The Police Federation (PFNI), the officers' representative body, condemned the "mindless violence".

Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said one of the injured officers had to have 12 stitches to a finger after being bitten during an assault.

"At the Ardoyne shops, officers performed heroically after lifting a car to rescue a seriously injured 16-year girl following a road traffic collision," he added.

"In the meantime, other officers were the subject of a sustained attack by rioters using bricks and bolts. These rioters had obviously come prepared to cause disorder.

"Once again, officers demonstrated their patience and professionalism even though their lines were under attack. The scenes we witnessed were deplorable and shameful. The behaviour of those who viciously targeted police lines was mindless and unacceptable.

"Like others, I would appeal for calm. My thoughts are with my colleagues who were injured and those hundreds of officers who continue to work to bring order to challenging interface areas."

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