30/10/2008

Hoax Bombs Highlight Parade Tension

The first of two Belfast city centre bomb hoaxes was yesterday said to have coincided with a meeting between senior police officers and the NI Parades Commission at its headquarters.

The meeting was to discuss the planned Army homecoming parade through the city this weekend - with traffic around the city centre being disrupted after police sealed off Bedford Street in response to the first of two alerts.

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.

Staff and visitors in the building were told to evacuate as Army technical officers searched for the object, later described by police as a hoax.

However, 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.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged his support to the armed forces' Belfast parade.
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Speaking in London on Wednesday he told the House of Commons: "Our armed forces deserve the support of every community from which they come," Mr Brown said.

"Where there have been parades in different cities and towns across this country, not only have they been peaceful, but large numbers of people have turned out because they want to give support to our troops and ensure that they have the confidence of the British people."

NI First Minister Peter Robinson had earlier asked the Prime Minister to recognise the work of troops from both communities in Northern Ireland and also pressed the Prime Minister about Sunday's Sinn Fein counter-demonstration, describing the protest as "preposterous".

However, there are mounting fears that the NI Parades Commission decision to allow both marchers and protestors on the streets at the same time will be "extremely difficult for the PSNI to police", as numerous dissident republican groups have also vowed to hold illegal marches into the city.

Speaking yesterday after emerging from an hour of separate talks with the Parades Commission - before the bomb alerts - South Belfast SDLP MLA Carmel Hanna said that the Commission could not leave the PSNI to police things as they stood.

(BMcC)

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