Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Monday, 9 January 2006

Hand of friendship across divide

Belfast is being encouraged to extend the hand of friendship this month.

Arts and cultural events are taking place all over the city as part of a three-week long Friendship Festival.

Man playing drum
A fiesta kicked off the festivities in Belfast

It is the highlight of Belfast's participation in the UK-wide Friendship Project, which celebrates and explores the meaning of friendship.

The organisers say it is an opportunity for community groups to come together.

Councillor Bernie Kelly, Chairman of Belfast City Council's Arts Sub-Committee said: "The Friendship Festival is packed with all kinds of events for everyone.

"It is a great opportunity for local community groups from all cultural backgrounds to get involved and showcase what they have to offer so we can collectively stage a fantastic festival that truly reflects the very best Belfast has to offer."

The festival kicked off on Saturday with a fun-filled fiesta at Custom House Square.

Attractions included music, dance and carnival events, stilt walkers, face painters, drumming and a wide variety of dancing including salsa, hiphop, Highland, Irish, Greek and African.

Among the groups taking part were Chinese Lion Dancers, the Kabosh Theatre Company, the Sandy Row Falcons, the South City Highland Dancers, Tribal Dance, the Reid School of Dance, the Beat Initiative and the Ballysillan Highland Dancers.

Custom House Square was the venue for the launch party
Custom House Square was the venue for the launch party

In the coming weeks, there will be an opportunity to meet members of the Belfast Giants, the official ambassadors of the Friendship Festival.

During the Friendship Festival, there will also be music and theatre events, carnivals, dances and arts and literature events.

The events will reflect four main themes namely: cross-community (partnerships of two or more community development groups), friends (celebratory events), sharing (educational events) and friendly (matches, games).

As part of the festival, a Friend Ship will tour local primary schools and public venues across Belfast.

The Friend Ship is a cultural interactive vehicle containing a cargo of treasure chests full of information about all of the cities taking part in the Friendship Project.

A variety of acts entertained the crowds
A variety of acts entertained the crowds

Children and community groups from every participating city each compiled their own treasure chest for the ship.

Every city's treasure chest offers a special interpretation of the meaning and value of friendship, as seen through the eyes of its children.

The Belfast treasure chest explores the meaning of friendship and will introduce citizens from the other ten Friendship cities to Belfast's history and heritage.

The Friend Ship will be at the Odyssey Pavilion on Saturday 14 January, An Droichead on Saturday 21 January, the Connswater Centre on Wednesday 25 January and Belfast City Hall on Friday 27 January from 10.00 GMT to 1600 GMT at each venue.

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