Violence erupted on Belfast's main shopping thoroughfare last night as police tried to contain loyalist protesters demonstrating against an internment commemoration march.
Some loyalists involved in the counter-demonstration along with at least two PSNI officers in riot gear were injured. Police deployed a PSNI helicopter and fired plastic baton rounds and water canon as the trouble flared ahead of the march marking the introduction of detention without trial on August 9th, 1971.
Demonstrators threw bricks, bottles and fireworks at police lines. Drainpipes and other fittings were torn from city centre shops along with glasses taken from a local bar.
Six loyalist groups were given permission by the Parades Commission to stage counter-demonstrations as the rally made its way from Ardoyne in north Belfast, along Royal Avenue in the city centre before heading into west Belfast.
The trouble, the worst in the main shopping area for years, is the latest is a violent month in Belfast since the annual July12th Orange parades.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said last night: “Make no mistake about it, those responsible for the violence against the police are the combined forces of the UVF and Orange Order in north Belfast.”
Eight officers were hurt after trouble broke out at an internment bonfire demonstration in the lower Falls area on Thursday night. Sinn Féin has said such bonfires “now need to be left in the past”.
There are fears of further trouble ahead of a controversial IRA commemoration this weekend in Co Tyrone.
'Dignified and lawful'
Mr McGuinness said a republican parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone to commemorate dead IRA members would be "dignified and lawful".
The parade is to go ahead tomorrow in defiance of appeals by unionists, victims' representatives and Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers.
However, Sinn Féin said a planned counter demonstration against a “feeder” march by Apprentice Boys of Derry also in Castlederg, today, in advance of the main march in Derry will not now go ahead. They said the decision was an attempt to calm the atmosphere.
Ms Villiers said she did not have the power to ban the republican Tyrone Volunteers Day parade, describing the parade as “deeply insensitive”.
Mr McGuinness insisted republicans in Tyrone should be allowed to commemorate local IRA men who died during the Troubles. Addressing unionist protests he added: “I have tremendous sympathy for all victims of the conflict and there have been victims on all sides. I don’t have any reason to believe that Sunday will not be peaceful: it’s not a celebration, it’s an act of remembrance.”
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty described the decision to call off the demonstration against the Apprentice Boys as "a genuine attempt to de-escalate tensions in the town". He accused unionist representatives of a "hysterical reaction" and "whipping up sectarian tensions".
Difference between bombers
DUP Assembly member Tom Buchanan said: "Martin McGuinness needs to explain the difference between the car bombers in Omagh and the car bombers in Castlederg. Why will his party stand against the Omagh bomb terrorists but stand with the Castlederg bombers?"
Mrs Foster said her heart went out to the families of IRA victims in the town. "They wish this event had never raised its head."