Police on alert ahead of Belfast city centre internment parade
Police are braced for potential disorder in Belfast today as thousands descend on the city centre for a republican parade and loyalist counter-demonstrations.
In signs of simmering tensions, eight officers were injured overnight after rioting broke out at a republican bonfire in the Divis area of west Belfast.
Traders have appealed for no trouble at tonight’s parade by up to 5,000 republicans and an estimated 600 or more loyalist counter-demonstrators including the Orange Order and other groups.
Both the republican parade and limited loyalist protests have been approved by the Parades Commission.
Thousands of republicans, described as supporters of the dissident wing of the republican movement, will parade along Royal Avenue this evening in a demonstration arranged by a group calling itself the Anti-Internment League.
Parades will leave various locations in Belfast at 6pm to converge on the city centre, before returning home by 9pm.
The Orange Order has notified the Parades Commission of a demonstration at Royal Avenue with two other protests planned by United Protestant Voice and the Protestant Coalition.
The Order's No 2 district plans to stage a 100-strong protest. The district has been embroiled in the parading row in north Belfast after its members were prevented from marching past Ardoyne on the Twelfth and subsequently.
Another group, Friends of No 9 District, will hold a city centre protest featuring around 150 people.
It is believed to be the first time the Orange Order has protested against a republican parade, although a senior figure has told the Belfast Telegraph the move does not represent a shift in strategy.
The Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson said the decision to protest was taken by the district involved and denied it was a shift in policy.
"It was a local decision," he said."I think a crisis has been created by the Parades Commission and everything now has become contentious again. There is anger about the dissident parade."
Mr Gibson called on those taking part in protests to ensure they are peaceful.
Belfast city centre traders - including store managers and bar owners - have expressed concern about the potential for violence linked to the parade and counter-demonstrations, and some have indicated they will close early.
Glynn Roberts, chief executive of the NI Independent Retail Association, said: Without doubt there is considerable concern among traders about this, not just on the retail side but on the hospitality side as well.
“I think our message is very simple to those on the parade and those protesting – keep it peaceful.
“Belfast city centre has had a tough time in the last year with the flag protests and other difficulties so the last thing we need is to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons again.
“There’s been a great buzz with the World Police and Fire Games and we don’t want to spoil that.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital