RIR parade passes quietly
RIR parade passes quietly

A British Army parade has passed off relatively quietly in Belfast city centre this morning in one of the largest Crown force operations seen in the city in many years.

Soldiers from three British regiments and its territorial army took part in what republicans viewed as a provocative and triumphalist display.

A phalanx of PSNI police separated loyalists on one side and Sinn Fein supporters, who had marched from Dunville Park in west Belfast.

As the soldiers’ parade started, some loyalists climbed construction scaffolding and threw bottles, fireworks and other missiles down onto the Sinn Fein protest.

As the soldiers passed by their band music could not be heard above chanting and jeering from both sides.

A second protest by the republican group eirigi was prevented from going ahead by the Crown forces, who said it was illegal.

The group, among them Breandan MacCionnaith, were held back near the West Link highway, well away from the city centre, where they made speeches denouncing the event.

Meanwhile, loyalist paramilitaries were observed to be present as the march reached its destination at Belfast City Hall. Loyalists loudly applauded DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson as he walked to take his place on the VIP platform.

On Friday, Sinn Fein changed its plans for its counter-demonstration, altering its march route entirely and removing the possibility of a confrontation with British Army supporters from the loyalist Shankill area.

The British army’s general officer commanding in Ireland, Major General Chris Brown, also issued a press statement on Friday announcing that the parading troops would be unarmed and that a planned Air Force fly-past had been cancelled.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly, speaking to protestors at Dunville Park in west Belfast, said the parade was a “provocative act which had split the city”.

Earlier, he denied that the party’s decision to alter their protest came as a result of a deal with the British Army.

He said they had rerouted their demonstration in order to reduce any potential confrontations with loyalists and to separate their protest from other republican groups.

“We will not allow any group -- either so-called dissident republican or some loyalist elements or English fascists -- to hijack the protest of the victims of British state violence,” he said.

“The history of the British Army in Ireland is one of great cruelty and hurt.

“Victims of collusion and British state violence are particularly offended and incensed by [today’s] march,” he added.

The British soldiers, numbering between 200 and 300, are currently at a reception at the Waterfront Hall. Although most participants and protestors have now dispersed, interface areas in Belfast and elsewhere are expected to remain tense over the coming hours.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News