More loyalist protests on the way despite low turnout
Loyalist protesters are to return to Belfast City Hall tomorrow night to mark the actual anniversary of the council's controversial decision to stop displaying the Union flag all-year around.
A further Saturday demonstration is planned for the city centre on December 14, fuelling traders' fears of another pre-Christmas blow at the tills.
The ongoing protests were announced after around 1,500 people took part in a mainly peaceful parade on Saturday, only around one-fifth of the crowd – including bands – which had been expected.
Despite the low turnout, two PSNI officers were injured as supporters returned home.
Fears of mass disruption on a busy shopping day failed to materialise.
Police are also investigating a breach of the Parades Commission's determination, which instructed organisers the march had to be clear of the city centre by 12.30pm.
Around 1,000 protesters remained on the footpaths around City Hall for a further 30 minutes, but without serious incident.
Following what became an illegal parade, a PSNI statement warned: "Individuals in breach of the determination should expect to face the consequences of their actions in due course."
Some of the bands, as well as participants, moved along Royal Avenue towards North Street and there was an increased police presence in the Carrick Hill area as the parade returned, again incident-free.
A number of protesters later returned along the Woodvale Road, where the PSNI stopped them near the Ardoyne parading flashpoint – the area where a July 12 Orange Order parade was prevented from passing on a return leg earlier this year.
The most serious incident of the day saw two police officers injured.
One was knocked unconscious as police blocked demonstrators at the junction of Tennent Street and Crumlin Road.
A 35-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the assault.
Newtownabbey Alliance councillor John Blair said: "Attacking the police is completely unacceptable.
"I am disappointed that the parade organisers broke the Parades Commission ruling by leaving City Hall later than the determination stated.
"While it is to be welcomed that it was peaceful in the city centre, it was wrong for them to flout the Parades Commission.
"However, it was good to see that a lot of people were not deterred from going to the shops."
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, along with party members John Kyle and Winston Irvine, Protestant victims' campaigner Willie Frazer and former BNP man Paul Golding, of the Britain First Party, were among those taking part.
A statement handed out during the protest said the group behind it – the Loyalist Peaceful Protesters – was "like-minded people from all over Northern Ireland and Scotland" and had no affiliation with any political party or paramilitary organisations. This was after Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he had no doubt it was being organised by the UVF.
"We remain strong in our defiance to protest without fear of arrest or imprisonment. Any future infringement of the PUL community's human rights will be addressed by the unionist, loyalist and Protestant people by means of protest or parades," it said. Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, which represents bars, hotels and restaurants across the province, said traders remained concerned at the threat of further protests.
He said: "A third of our yearly trade is done in the six weeks around Christmas.
"There are so many obstacles facing traders." Glyn Roberts from the NI Independent Retail Trade Association voiced relief that the parade had passed off peacefully and reiterated his call for more support for the traders.
Yesterday, flag protester Jamie Bryson said he had reported an online threat to police against himself and PUP representative Mr Irvine.