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Dissidents parade through Belfast for anti-internment march

Dissident republicans have paraded through Belfast to City Hall for the first time for their annual anti-internment parade.

A major police operation was put into operation at Saturday's march and a loyalist counter-demonstrations was held.

It was the first time in the parade's four-year history it was allowed to march all the way to City Hall. Organisers restricted the route in order to persuade the Parades Commission to allow it to take place. Restrictions, however, were placed on the numbers attending.

Organiser Dee Fennell said it was right the parade passed through the city.

"We have decided to use this route this year. It is a route used by many campaigns, such as the LGBTQ campaign, May Day rallies, peace rallies and numerous others so we wanted to utilise this route the same way other campaigns do."

The main speaker at the event was Mandy Duffy, the vice-chairperson of dissident republican party Saoradh, and sister-in-law of leading Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, who also attended the parade.

The parade organisers pledged their march would be peaceful as unionists expressed fears of serious disturbances on the streets.

Up to 1,000 republicans and four flute bands were to take part, organisers said prior to the event.

Republicans gathered at Writers' Square beside St Anne's Cathedral at lunchtime and marched up Royal Avenue and into Donegall Place to City Hall, where speakers addressed the rally.

The crowd was due to disperse at 2pm but the organisers yesterday notified the Parades Commission of their intention to hold a return parade through the city centre which will finish in Castle Street.

In 2015, there were clashes between the PSNI and republicans after police stopped the anti-internment march from entering the city centre.

The previous year the parade went ahead amid a massive police operation which saw streets blocked off hours in advance.

In 2013, 56 PSNI officers were injured after loyalist protesters attacked the police during a parade.

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