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Protestants, Catholics Clash In Belfast; Dozens Hurt

A confrontation between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, Northern Ireland, erupted into violence overnight, injuring 56 police officers and two civilians.

"Belfast's main shopping district was turned into a battlefield last night as thousands of loyalists clashed with riot police to prevent a republican dissident rally passing down the city's main thoroughfare," The Guardian writes.

Police say the clashes began when Protestant mobs tried to block a march by supporters of the Irish Republican Army.

The Independent reports:

"The protesters hurled bricks, bottles and fireworks at police before the parade arrived. Some cars were set on fire in the North Street area, and shops were damaged.

Police used rubber bullets, water cannon and dogs to control the crowds, which prevented the parade from passing as planned along Royal Avenue - one of the city's main shopping areas, near City Hall. Five of the injured officers needed hospital treatment."

Chief Constable Matt Baggott vowed to arrest those responsible, accusing the Protestants of "mindless anarchy and sheer thuggery."

At a Belfast news conference on Saturday, Baggott vowed that the prison population would soon be "bulging" as detectives used video footage to identify rioters.

Reuters writes:

"The Catholic parade, marking the anniversary of the 1971 introduction of internment without trial by British authorities, eventually had to pass along a different route.

"Forty-two years ago, soldiers swept into Catholic districts and arrested more than 340 people as the British government sought to halt growing Irish Republican Army (IRA) violence aimed at extinguishing rule from London.

"In all, more than 3,600 people died in a sectarian conflict that began in the late 1960s, including more than 1,000 members of the British security forces. More than 36,000 were injured."

Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said in a statement, that Friday's night's violence was "shameful".

"Disorder on the streets is a hugely regrettable step backwards," she said.

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