Tension as Belfast march goes ahead
26/06/2004 - 16:19:06

Belfast was plunged into traffic chaos today as nationalists blocked off main roads in protest at a flashpoint loyalist parade.

With Catholic residents in the west of the city incensed by the authorities reversing their decision and letting Orangemen march through their district, central station and the major West Link route were brought to a halt.

Up to 300 protesters gathered on the Springfield Road amid tight security as the bitterly contested Whiterock procession passed off peacefully.

But the crowds were told Belfast had been gridlocked by others venting their anger at the Parades Commission ruling.

Sinn Féin Assemblyman Alex Maskey declared: “I urge all those who claim to represent the nationalist community to stand by this community which once again has been betrayed.

“The people in this city today have given the message that we will not be treated in this shameful manner.”

The Commission, which rules on all contentious marches in Northern Ireland, originally barred the Orange Order from walking along the Springfield Road.

It cited loyalist paramilitary emblems being displayed 12 months ago and a refusal to talk with residents as the reason for its decision.

But amid intense anger at the ban, and after talks with political and community representatives, the block was lifted.

Marchers were told they must ensure all terrorist flags were removed and a flute band which flouted the rules was told it could not parade.

Riot squad officers lined the route to keep back nationalists holding protest banners while Orangemen and band members came through a heavily fortified peace line.

No tunes were played and some banners were kept furled during the 10-minute procession.

Although some youths threw golf balls at the security forces as they moved out after the march, fears of major trouble proved unfounded.

Alisdair McDonnell, a nationalist SDLP Assembly member, accepted there appeared to be no loyalist provocation but insisted the tense stand-off was far from perfect.

He said: “I just hope that we can find a better method before this happens again.

“The conduct was fine and they (the loyalists) behaved, as far as I could see, reasonably well.

“But I saw a number of faces in the crowd that have little to do with Whiterock Orange Hall.”

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