Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dozens Injured in Northern Ireland as Protestants Riot Over Blocked Parade Route

Dozens Injured in Northern Ireland as Protestants Riot Over Blocked Parade Route
July 13, 2013

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Hundreds of police reinforcements from Britain were deployed Saturday on Belfast’s rubble-strewn streets after Protestant riots over a blocked march left 32 officers, a senior lawmaker and at least 8 rioters injured.

Northern Ireland’s police commander, Chief Constable Matt Baggott, blamed leaders of the Orange Order brotherhood for inciting running street battles in two parts of Belfast that lasted six hours and subsided early Saturday. He called the group’s leaders reckless and said they had had no plan for controlling the crowds they had summoned.

The fraternity’s annual July 12 marches always raise tensions with the Roman Catholic minority here. In each of the previous four years, violence has broken out after an Orange parade passed by the mainly Catholic district Ardoyne in north Belfast, the most bitterly divided part of the capital.

This year the British authorities ordered the marchers to avoid the stretch of road nearest Ardoyne, an order that the police enforced by blocking the parade route with seven armored vehicles. Orange leaders took that as a challenge and rallied thousands of supporters to the spot, where some attacked police vehicles and the lines of heavily armored officers behind them.

Chief Baggott said the Orange leaders behaved recklessly and should not duck responsibility for the mayhem.

“Having called thousands of people to protest, they had no plan and no control,” said Chief Baggott, an Englishman who has commanded the Police Service of Northern Ireland since 2009.

Orange leaders said the blockade decision was the problem, not the fury of their own members. But they backed off their original threat to mount indefinite street protests across Northern Ireland and ordered a suspension of protests early Saturday. The order’s leaders declined requests for interviews.

Nigel Dodds, north Belfast’s Protestant member of Parliament and an Orangeman himself, had gone to the riot’s front line to appeal for calm and was knocked unconscious by a brick that fell short of police lines. He was released from the hospital on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said it transported eight wounded civilians from the riots. But other rioters are likely to have stayed away from hospitals, because those admitted for riot-related injuries can be identified and arrested by the police.

Britain’s cabinet minister for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said it was “vitally important for the Orange Order to make clear now that their protests have come to an end.”

“It would be disastrous if we were to see a recurrence of last night’s violence over the next few days,” she said.

The July 12 parades officially commemorate a 17th-century battlefield victory by the Protestants over Catholics. But in practical terms, the mass military-themed mobilizations — including 550 on Friday alone — provide a graphic annual test of whether Protestants still wield control in a land where the government and the police for decades were almost exclusively Protestant...

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