Belfast demo against racism

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Belfast yesterday demanding an end to racism.

Representatives of all political parties, including representatives of the unionist paramilitary UDA and UVF, attended the rally.

Racist attacks in south Belfast and the Craigavon area have been blamed on orchestrated campaigns by the main unionist paramilitary groups, something which their political representatives have denied.

The rally in Belfast city centre yesterday saw hundreds of men, women and children from a wide range of backgrounds arrive at the city hall to voice their opposition to racially motivated attacks.

The crowd of several hundred held placards and banners with messages such as ``Don't be Blind to Racism'' and ``Stamp Out Racism''.

The rally was organised by the Anti-Racism Network in conjunction with the trade union movement.

The demonstration was organised after a series of attacks against Chinese, Asian and Filipino members of the community in areas such as south Belfast and Craigavon.

Political representatives at the event included Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, the SDLP's Alex Attwood, Michael McGimpsey of the UUP, and the PUP's David Ervine.

Jamal Iweida, president of the Islamic Centre in Belfast, encouraged people to live in peace with one another.

``Racism is equivalent to sectarianism and we should all fight against it,'' he said.

``The overwhelming majority of people here are nice, friendly and welcoming. It is just a very small minority who are not.

``Regardless of our religion, our colour, our tradition, we are all equal.

``We must show the whole world that we can live together peacefully and united against any type of racism and sectarianism.''

Civil rights campaigner Eamon McCann said: ``The fact that we met on Holocaust Day should remind us what racism can lead to.

``These incidents are on a scale altogether different from the conflagration of hatred which led to the murder of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.

``What we have to remember is that these incidents are the sparks which, if not snuffed out, can lead to such a conflagration.

``The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland aren't racist, and it is also true that racism is not confined to one community. But it is all around us,'' he said.

Speaking from the event, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said that all of those in political leadership had ``a duty to stand up against the racists and the bigots who were bring terror to the ethnic minority communities in the city''.

Mr Adams said: ``On countless occasions in the past I have joined rallies in this city to demand Human Rights and Civil Rights. Today's event is no different. The Ethnic Minority Community in this city are part of our fabric and they must be defended and protected.

``Their rights as citizens must be upheld and they must be allowed to live their lives in peace without the threat of racist attack or abuse.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News