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Republican anti-internment rally 'a shameful attempt to stoke tensions' in Belfast

By Noel McAdam

Unionists have accused organisers of the abortive anti-internment rally in Belfast of attempting to ratchet up tensions in the city in the fallout from the controversial parade and subsequent violence.

While thousands involved in the annual march on Sunday dispersed after they were halted at police lines, there was minor trouble in the Ardoyne area in which nine police officers were slightly injured when at least half a dozen petrol bombs, bricks, bottles and other missiles were thrown. Water cannon were brought in to deal with the disorder and the rioters soon dispersed.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said organisers had decided to disregard a Parades Commission determination - but it was still "a mistake" by the police to stop the parade at an interface area.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has already laid the blame for the trouble at the feet of organisers who brought people out onto the streets

DUP MLA William Humphrey insisted the police would have examined the route in detail and decided on the best place to halt marchers.

"The organisers of this parade of shame have succeeded only in increasing inter-community tensions, causing huge expense for a massive policing operation and disrupting our city centre trade," he said.

And Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson said: "This so-called parade or demonstration was an absolute disgrace and nothing more than an extension of the ongoing threats of violence and intimidation that violent republicans present to the political and peace process."

The Anti-Internment League said "all march participants behaved peacefully and with dignity" when the parade reached the police cordon, before taking "the responsible decision" to leave the area.

Petrol bombs, stones and bottles were thrown at police lines after they stopped the parade entering the city centre soon after it set off from Ardoyne en route to Royal Avenue with a planned finish on the Falls Road.

Three men and a woman were arrested and two have been charged.

The woman, Sarah Kelly Umney (36), faced charges of riotous behaviour, obstructing police and resisting arrest at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said responsibility for the violence lay with the organisers.

Police had tried to make contact with the organisers of the parade in the days ahead of it, but no one would engage in discussions, he added.

"It was an unlawful parade, it was our job to uphold the law, to enforce the Parades Commission determination and we did that and we only used force when we were subjected to disorder and violence," he said. "We always seek to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible, but while the parade, in its bulk, did disperse, there were still quite a few people about.

"There were people down the road on the loyalist side, there were people milling about in the nationalist area and very quickly after the dispersal of the parade the violence ensued.

"As quickly as possible, we dealt with that violence and withdrew from the area."

Fr Martin Magill, a local priest, said some residents had felt hemmed in and pushed around. "They feel the whole police operation has really angered them and frustrated them," he said.

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