Protestant hard-liners attack Belfast police at barriers on marches
BELFAST — Protestant hard-liners attacked lines of Belfast riot police on Friday as Northern Ireland's annual mass marches by the Orange Order brotherhood reached a furious, chaotic end with running street battles in several conflict zones.
In north Belfast, police in flame-retardant suits and helmets deployed a half-dozen armored cars to block a road so that Protestant Orangemen could not march past the edge of Ardoyne, a militant Roman Catholic district that has become the most bitterly contested spot on the city map.
Men jumped on top of the armored barricade and, as hundreds of marchers and supporters formed a sea of often alcohol-fueled fury behind them, wielded pipes, golf clubs, wood planks and even ceremonial swords to vandalize the police vans.
Emboldened, some threw bottles and bricks point-blank into police lines. Many in the mob cheered as one police officer, struck and knocked semiconscious, was dragged to safety by colleagues.
Officers responded by firing a water cannon at rioters, propelling at least one man sideways off the roof of an armored car and on to the pavement, his forehead split open.
The Protestant crowd kept swelling and hurling objects into police lines, forcing officers to respond with volleys of snub-nosed plastic bullets in a failed bid to force the crowd to disperse or retreat.
During melees that lasted for hours, police said at least 23 officers and several rioters were injured, as was the Protestant politician who represents north Belfast in British Parliament, Nigel Dodds.
Leaders of the Orange Order vowed to keep Protestants rallying to the confrontation zone until police caved in and permitted the march past Ardoyne.