Police slam Belfast 'anarchy' as 56 officers hurt
By Shawn Pogatchnik, APDUBLIN--Northern Ireland's police chief vowed Saturday to hunt down and imprison scores of Protestant militants after they attacked and wounded 56 officers protecting a parade by Irish Republican Army supporters.
August 11, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Friday night's outbreak of violence in downtown Belfast could be just the first in a tense weekend involving disputed parades by both the Irish Catholic and British Protestant extremes of society.
Senior police said Protestant extremists encouraged by social-media messages rallied to block the parade on Royal Avenue, Belfast's major shopping boulevard. Some wore British flags as capes or masks, and tore up scaffolding and pavement stones, to attack police girded in full riot gear.
Police responded by striking rioters with water cannons and 26 plastic bullets, which are blunt-nosed cylinders designed to deal punishing blows without penetrating the flesh. Several protesters could be seen walking away from the clash with bloodied faces.
Protestant politicians said security officials should never have authorized what they called a deliberately provocative march by Irish republican hard-liners opposed to Northern Ireland's peace process.
After rival crowds of march supporters and opponents briefly traded salvos of rocks and bottles, march organizers abandoned their plan to parade past Belfast City Hall and instead diverted it back into Catholic west Belfast.
Britain's government minister for Northern Ireland condemned the Protestant mobs for “utterly disgraceful” behavior.
“Whatever people think about the merits of the parade or the views of the people taking part in the parade, the rule of law has to be respected,” said Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott told a Belfast news conference Saturday that Northern Ireland's prison population soon “will be bulging” as detectives used video footage to identify rioters.
Baggott said seven rioters were arrested Friday night for attacks on police and the hijacking of cars, one of which was set on fire in the middle of the planned parade route. “You can be assured that many more (arrests) will follow,” he said.
He noted that more than 500 rioters, mostly Protestants confronting police in the streets of Belfast, already had been charged and convicted for earlier spasms of street violence in December, January and July.