Hardline unionists have been blamed for a shocking incident that saw a noose placed around the neck of an image of Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie.
The hanging display overshadowed the largest anti-protocol rally so far in the County Armagh town of Lurgan, which was attended by up to a thousand loyalists last weekend.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and TUV leader Jim Allister were seen moving the image of Beattie in a noose close to the rally platform before the pair addressed the event. They denied involvement in the evident threat to their political rival.
Mr Beattie said the rally organisers must take some responsibility for the hangman image.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that days after [loyalist blogger and rally organiser] Jamie Bryson used the phrase ‘double-knotted noose’, it just so happened that a double-knotted noose was placed around one of my election posters,” he said.
“At Friday’s rally in Lurgan, I was called a ‘Lundy’ and a ‘traitor’, and that’s exactly the reason why I took the decision not to attend because you cannot control some of the mindless idiots there.”
The UUP leader’s constituency office in Portadown was attacked late last month with the front window being smashed by a brick, after he distanced himself from the extremist anti-protocol rallies.
The rallies have been taking place in tandem with increased loyalist violence, including a hoax car bomb attack in Belfast that forced Dublin’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney to flee an event at which he had been speaking.
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill condemned the display.
“There is absolutely no place in our politics or community for such threats against public representatives or anyone else,” she said.
“Those politicians involved in these anti-Good Friday Agreement and anti-protocol rallies must refrain from inflammatory speeches which are whipping up tensions and lead to a deteriorating political situation.”