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N.Ireland unionist parades pass off peacefully

AFP

Police stand guard as loyalists take part in an Orange Order march in North Belfast, in Northern Ireland, on July 12, 2014Police stand guard as loyalists take part in an Orange Order march in North Belfast, in Northern Ireland, on July 12, 2014

Police stand guard as loyalists take part in an Orange Order march in North Belfast, in Northern Ireland, on July 12, 2014Police stand guard as loyalists take part in an Orange Order march in North Belfast, in Northern Ireland, on July 12, 2014

Tens of thousands Northern Ireland unionists held a peaceful parade in north Belfast, marking the culmination of the loyal order marching season.

The march was prevented from passing along the Crumlin Road in Ardoyne, a bitterly contested boundary between unionists and republicans.

A similar decision last year led to days of rioting.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was "pleased" that Saturday's parades were largely successful.

"This has been due to a number of factors, including responsible leadership from a range of groups such as the Orange Order," he explained.

"I welcome the repeated pleas from the Orange Order and politicians from all sides for all parades and protests to be peaceful and lawful."

The July 12 parade marks the victory of Protestant king William III of Orange over the deposed Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The march is the peak of the traditional marching season, in which the unionist Orange Order marches with pipes, drums and banners to mark the anniversary.

It is a flashpoint for tensions between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the province, which was devastated by three decades of sectarian violence in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The 1998 Good Friday peace accords largely brought an end to the unrest, known as The Troubles, although sporadic violence and bomb threats continue.

There were fears of more violence this year after unionist parties last week walked out of talks in protest at restrictions placed on the parade.

The Parade Commission ruled that the evening part of the march should not return by the Ardoyne, saying it risked damaging community relations and causing public disorder.

Unionist lawmaker Nigel Dodds commended Orange leaders for keeping the peace.

"The Orange institution, community leaders and political representatives have worked tirelessly and unitedly to create the context for tonight's successful conclusion," he said.

"Despite severe provocation from republican elements and the scandalous decision of the Parades Commission, the world has witnessed a traditional Belfast Twelfth and a peaceful, lawful and effective protest this evening on the Woodvale Road.

"Tolerance and respect must be the key ingredients moving forwards."

Despite the general peace, police said that a man had been stabbed in south Belfast earlier in the day during fighting between rival Catholic and Protestant gangs.

"At approximately 3:10 am, police received a report that a man had been stabbed and that rival factions were fighting in the area," said a Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman.

Police responded and separated the two sides and remained in the area to ensure it stayed calm, he added.

The man was treated in hospital for non-life threatening injuries, according to police.

Date created : 2014-07-13