12/08/2013

Belfast Violence Condemned

There has been widespread condemnation over scenes of violent disorder and civil unrest that followed a republican parade through Belfast city centre.

An 'anti-internment' parade down Royal Avenue on Friday evening resulted in violent clashes between loyalist protesters and police, leaving 56 officers injured as the PSNI came under fire from missiles, including parts of scaffolding and concrete paving slabs.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "I know the majority of the population will stand with me in condemning those who scarred the reputation of our beautiful city last night. Those people had no intention of peaceful protest. They lack self respect and they lack dignity.

"I want to commend my colleagues for their immense courage. I have no doubt whatsoever that they prevented that anarchy from spreading and without that courage lives could have been lost."

Arrests have already been made following Friday's disorder, with six men having been charged in connection to the events.

Chief Constable Baggott said: "If anyone doubts our resolve on this, just think of the hundreds of people who have been arrested, prosecuted or reported in connection with disturbances this year.

"There's plenty of evidence of what happened last night and I have no doubt whatsoever that significant custodial sentences will be handed down and prisons will be bulging."

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, Gold Commander for Friday night’s policing operation, added: "What we saw was significant numbers of people from around half past five gathering in Royal Avenue. There was absolutely no organisation, no coordination and no leadership around any of those protests. We saw numbers swell to around twelve hundred people and it was evident that many of them had violent intent.

"Violent attacks were meted out against officers and colleagues showed immense courage and faced huge personal risk to clear that road to make it passable for the parade. The parade had made it's way down onto North Queen Street where we had asked it to stop. It stopped for about twenty five minutes so we could finish clearing Royal Avenue. Unfortunately we were almost at the point of Royal Avenue being cleared of protestors to allow the parade to go through when the parade organisers decided to take a different route avoiding Royal Avenue and they walked on through North Queen Street and onto Carrick Hill, Millfield and into west Belfast.

"The violence we experienced in Royal Avenue was very severe. There were all sorts of weapons and equipment being used against the police including scaffolding and masonry. People were pulling up the paving stones from the busiest shopping precinct in Belfast, destroying our city and taking that masonry and throwing it at police officers who put their lives on the line to try and keep people safe."

Alliance Justice Spokesperson Stewart Dickson said: "Tonight we have witnessed devastating scenes in the centre of Belfast. Businesses were left with no alternative but closure and the general public forced to stay away as scenes of violence were once again depicted around the world.

"In the absence of an alternative system all sides must respect the Parades Commission. It is the only lawful body whose determinations should be abided by, anyone breaking these determinations should be aware they are breaking the law."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "I deeply regret the injuries sustained by police officers in the lawful execution of their duty and wish them all speedy and full recoveries. Violence against the police from those belonging to the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community is not only wrong, it is also playing into the hands of Irish Republicanism. It removes the focus from the offensive nature of their attempt to re-write history and excuse the terrorism that blighted our country for decades, and still does."

(IT/CD)

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