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Divisive Ulster holiday starts with Belfast riots

Divisive Ulster holiday starts with Belfast riots

Northern Ireland's divisive annual holiday called "The Twelfth," when tens of thousands of Protestants parade across the British territory, got off to a violent start Tuesday with riots in several parts of Belfast.
Police said at least seven officers were injured during street clashes that gathered pace after Protestants lit scores of towering bonfires at midnight, the traditional start to one-sided Twelfth celebrations that for decades have inspired bloodshed and destruction.
Tens of thousands of members of the Orange Order, a Protestant brotherhood dedicated to celebrating 17th-century military victories over Catholics, planned to march later in the day.
As the acrid smell of bonfires wafted across Belfast, crowds of Catholic militants seeking a fight with police turned violent in several front-line areas where fixed barricades called "peace lines" separate British Protestant and Irish Catholic turf.
In one of the worst clashes, police confronted a 200-strong crowd of men and teenagers in the Broadway section of Catholic west Belfast. The police lines formed a barrier preventing the Catholics from reaching Protestant bonfire celebrants on the far side of the M1 motorway that bisects the city.
The rioters tossed Molotov cocktails, masonry, bricks and stones at police, who donned visored helmets, shields and head-to-toe flame retardent suits. At one point rioters hijacked a bus at gunpoint on the nearby Falls Road and apparently tried to drive the vehicle at police lines, but it crashed into nearby fencing instead and was set ablaze.
At Broadway and two other Belfast flashpoints, police contained the rioters with sporadic volleys of British-style plastic bullets _ blunt-nosed cylinders designed to deal hard blows to their targets _ and heavy doses of blasts from mobile water cannon.
Police could offer no estimates of civilian casualties, which is typical amid the confusion of nighttime Northern Ireland riots. Unless seriously injured, Belfast rioters try to avoid hospital treatment because police investigate those who have suffered wounds apparently suffered during riots.
On both sides of the overnight trouble, many members of the youthful crowds were visibly drinking heavily. Often the just-emptied bottles joined the salvo of objects being thrown at police positioned to keep the two sides apart.
Tuesday's violence follows weeks of similar flare-ups in working-class districts of Belfast and nearby suburbs that have left scores of police injured, none critically. Last week, Protestants rioted in one suburb after police removed British and sectarian flags from street lights near the area's lone Catholic church.
Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society despite the broad success of its two-decade-old peace process. The leaders of peacemaking's central achievement _ a Catholic-Protestant government based on an eastern hilltop overlooking the city _ appealed in vain for rioters to desist this year.
Later Tuesday, Orangemen planned to march at 17 locations accompanied by so-called "kick the pope" fife-and-drum bands. The conservative society planned to ask its members to back resolutions lauding the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible; the recent wedding of Prince William and the former Kate Middleton; and the predominantly Protestant members of the locally recruited British army regiments in Northern Ireland.
Police are bracing for potential violence Tuesday night as Orangemen marching back to their lodges will pass Catholic districts. British authorities have tried to minimize such confrontations by restricting the routes of Orange parades over the past 15 years, but several potential flashpoints remain on the Belfast map.


Updated : 2021-08-01 09:54 GMT+08:00