Northern Ireland

26 police officers injured during Belfast parade protests

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Media captionLoyalist protesters confronted police in Belfast City Centre, as Chris Buckler reports

Twenty-six police officers were injured during loyalist protests in Belfast on Friday, as demonstrations were held against a republican parade.

The protesters prevented the parade from passing along Royal Avenue.

Police said they came under heavy and sustained attack by crowds "intent on creating disorder".

Five of the injured officers needed hospital treatment. Police fired 20 plastic baton rounds and used water cannon as well as dogs.

Police said they had reports that two members of the public had been injured.

Loyalist protesters attacked the police with bricks and bottles as they waited for the republican parade to arrive.

The parade had been due to pass through Royal Avenue - one of the city's main shopping areas - but the marchers were prevented from using the route by the protest.

A number of parked vehicles were also set on fire in the North Street area. A number of shops were damaged as well as at least one bar.

Some loyalists accused the police of being heavy-handed.

Image caption A car on fire in Belfast city centre during the disturbances

However, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: "Whilst facilitating the Parades Commission determination for tonight's parade and associated protests, police have come under heavy and sustained attack by crowds intent on creating disorder.

"As Northern Ireland moves ahead, the effect of tonight's violence has the potential to damage the local economy and the reputation of Belfast as a tourist destination."

The parade and the protesters later confronted each other about 100 metres apart in north Belfast.

What police have described as serious disorder took place in the Carrickhill, Peter's Hill and Millfield areas close to the city centre.

The parade then passed into west Belfast after protesters were pushed back towards the Shankill area.

Police put in place a major operation ahead of the parade, involving hundreds of officers and dozens of vehicles.

The march, which started in north Belfast, marked the introduction of internment in 1971.

The DUP's Nelson McCausland said the republican parade had been designed to provoke a loyalist reaction.

"We warned the secretary of state, the PSNI and the Parades Commission that this would happen but they ignored our warnings," he said.

"They misjudged the situation and the image of Belfast has suffered badly. That is particularly frustrating because what happened was entirely avoidable."

The Ulster Unionist Party said its East Belfast assembly member Michael Copeland had made a complaint to police that he had been assaulted by an officer.

Image caption The aftermath of the violence on Royal Avenue

Mr Copeland told the BBC: "There was an elderly woman, I would say she was 75, standing in front of me with her back to the police, she was being repeatedly pushed by shields. When I stepped forward to intervene I was kicked by a police officer.

"I have a very old injury which means I walk with a very pronounced limp and I was kicked repeatedly on that leg and stamped on that foot."

Mr Copeland said his wife and daughter were also struck by batons. The MLA said he went straight to Strandtown Police Station to make a complaint.

The police have said they are aware of the allegation and have referred the incident to the Police Ombudsman.

The Parades Commission had given permission for six loyalist protests against the parade.

Numbers were restricted at four of them.

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