Traders appeal to both sides to keep the peace
Violent scenes at a dissident republican rally through the centre of Belfast would be disastrous for beleaguered traders, a business chief has warned.
Thousands of dissidents and human rights activists will parade along Royal Avenue this evening as part of a march against what the organisers claim is ongoing internment by remand.
Around 600 protesters will stage demonstrations against the rally, including an unprecedented protest by Orange Order members.
Calls have been made by politicians, the Orange Order and the parade organisers for all those involved to ensure the march passes off peacefully.
And last night Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association, said there was serious concern among city centre traders about the impact any violence would have on their already under-pressure businesses.
Some have said they will pull the shutters down early this evening in case of any disorder.
Mr Roberts 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 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."
A DUP delegation met with police yesterday to discuss their concerns ahead of the parade.
The Parades Commission yesterday restricted the numbers taking part in each of four separate protests, including that of Order members, to 75.
As well as the Order's protest, loyalists from United Protestant Voice and the Protestant Coalition will stage demonstrations. Friends of No 9 District will also take part.
Earlier this week the Protestant Coalition, founded by prominent campaigner Willie Frazer, picketed the Dublin offices of Facebook after the company removed the group's page on the social networking site.
Two loyalist residents group will also stage protests this evening, each consisting of 150 people.