Police class march security op 'a success'

A massive loyalist march in Northern Ireland passed off today without the trouble feared by many.

A massive loyalist march in Northern Ireland passed off today without the trouble feared by many.

Thousands of Apprentice Boys paraded through Derry, even though tensions surrounding the event were high.

Apart from three arrests for minor offences, and a brief petrol bomb attack on police in the Waterside area of the city, police chiefs who mounted a major security operation hailed it a success.

With heavy screens erected to keep nationalists and loyalists apart, rival factions could only resort to taunting each other.

Derry police commander Richard Russell said: “We really didn’t have any fisticuffs, we didn’t have any blows.

“We didn’t have any petrol bombs against each side, we didn’t have any firing of baton rounds, so in terms of the overall scale of things today was a success.”

Much of the focus had been on a bitterly disputed feeder parade earlier in north Belfast before the Apprentice Boys headed for Derry.

But it was in Maghera, Co Derry where the two sides came closest to violence.

A bread van was set on fire during a stand-off when police said up to 100 protesters blocked a road.

The crowd refused to move after mediation attempts, leaving the Apprentice Boys to turn back to avoid confrontation.

But in Ardoyne, north Belfast, marchers barred from walking through the Catholic district were bussed through the flashpoint area amid heavy security.

The ruling Parades Commission had imposed restrictions in a bid to prevent a repeat of rioting which scarred the city last month.

Although rival crowds gathered to see the loyal order hand in a letter of protest at police lines, fears of violence proved unfounded.

Tommy Cheevers, a spokesman for the Apprentice Boys, was incensed by the ban, but insisted there had never been any plans to heighten tensions.

He said: “We had no alternative but to comply. We’re not in the business of bringing people out on the streets to cause trouble.

“We’re angry because no matter what we do we are being punished. Not for our own violence but because of republican violence.”

In an attempt to manage the parade, the commission revised its original ruling by allowing the Apprentice Boys to pass the Ardoyne by bus en-route to their huge annual demonstration in Londonderry.

Despite peaceful marches in recent years, concerns grew after 25 police officers were wounded in clashes with nationalist mobs during a Twelfth of July Orange Order procession through Ardoyne.

Senior police sources have appealed to republicans and nationalist residents to talk to them face to face to resolve any issues.

“The people that need to be here are Sinn Fein,” one said.

“They really have to engage with us and sit down with us.”

With tensions surrounding Ardoyne defused, police chiefs in Derry focused on making sure the main parade was not be marred by violence.

Up to 15,000 Apprentice Boys are taking part in the Siege of Derry commemoration the largest march in Northern Ireland.

The city’s district police commander, Richard Russell, had warned: “Trouble makers, stay away.

“For the rest of the people, remain calm, be restrained, don’t listen to rumour and innuendo and enjoy your day.”

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