Tension on the streets heightened by hoax bomb calls
Fears were raised last night that a planned Army homecoming parade through the city this weekend could be disrupted by hoax bomb alerts.
Former Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers was speaking after two security alerts at the Parades Commission headquarters in Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon.
Traffic around the city centre was disrupted after police sealed off Bedford Street following the first alert.
Just after 3.15pm police received a report that a suspicious object had been left at Windsor House, the home of the Parades Commission, the British-Irish Joint Secretariat, the European Commission and the Courts Service.
The busy street was sealed off and occupants of the building were told to evacuate as Army technical officers searched for the object.
The object was later described by police as a hoax.
The street was sealed off for a second time following another security alert after 7pm last night. This was also declared a hoax a short time later.
Fears have been growing that violence may erupt this weekend when Royal Irish soldiers march through the city centre for their homecoming parade.
Mr Rodgers condemned the hoaxes as “disgraceful”.
“This is not the first occasion we have had suspect devices in that area,” he said.
“I thought those days were long since gone and hopefully the police can catch those involved. It’s the last thing we need. Any form of disruption in any city is not good, especially at a time when retailing in Belfast is suffering terribly.
“I have deep worries that there could be a number of hoax devices on Sunday to bring about massive disruption in relation to the parade by the security forces.”
Last night, a spokesman for the Parades Commission said staff inside the 20-floor building were all told to evacuate just after 4pm.
Meanwhile, the most senior military figure in Northern Ireland has written to all troops due to take part in Sunday's event urging them to act with dignity.
A Special Order issued by General Officer Commanding (GOC) Major General Chris Brown said the event was not a celebration of war nor was it an excuse to deepen divisions in Northern Ireland.
He reminded the soldiers that not everyone in the region supported the British Army and that the right to protest was one they should respect.
His note also revealed that the Army has taken a number of measures, such as ensuring no guns will be carried during the event, in an effort to ease tensions.
“We must recognise the events do not have the undivided support of the wider community in Northern Ireland,” he wrote.
“The right to legitimate and peaceful protest is something we all respect and hold dear.
“Critical to the success of these events and the viability of similar occasions in the future will be our demeanour as we share the streets.”
The GOC continued: “To those of you on parade: know that your achievements on operations are in the highest traditions of the Armed Services.
“Maintain those standards irrespective of any protest of whatever type.
“To your families and friends: your personal sacrifice and unflinching support have sustained your loved ones throughout the long months away. Continue that dignified support over the weekend.
“This is not a celebration of war. It is certainly not an excuse for deepening friction amongst the community in Northern Ireland; I expect you all to ensure it does not become one.”