Page last updated at 12:49 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Parade and protest plans changed

Harrier jump jet
Plans for a flypast have been dropped by the military

The armed forces and Sinn Féin have both altered their planned homecoming parade and protest in Belfast.

The armed forces dropped an RAF flypast and announced soldiers would be unarmed, while Sinn Féin has changed the route and times of its protest.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the change "would facilitate republicans and unionists being on the streets of Belfast in a peaceful way" on Sunday.

Major General Chris Brown said it would reduce "the potential for friction".

Dissident republicans opposed to the Sinn Féin leadership strategy of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are still planning to march in the city, a protest not approved by the Parades Commission which has already determined on the main two events.

Mr Kelly said their protest "will still be adjacent to the route of the planned British army parade".

"If the PSNI properly police the British army parade and the loyalist mobilisation, the city can return to normal very quickly," he said.

Sinn Féin representatives met the PSNI and the Parades Commission on Friday to discuss the changes, he added.


Major General Brown, who is General Officer Commanding for Northern Ireland, said the measures "further underpin our appreciation of the sensitivities surrounding this element of the parade".

"Earlier this week, I issued a special order to all military personnel taking part in the many events this weekend," he said.

"In that signal I stressed the significance and importance of being able to give thanks for the safe return of those who have served overseas.

"Equally, I emphasised the need for us to recognise that we do not have the undivided support of the wider community."

SDLP spokesman Alex Attwood said the armed forces' announcement was a step "in the right direction towards helping ease anxieties".

However, Ian Paisley Jr of the DUP said: "I think people will feel slightly cheated that the celebration and thanksgiving event is to be diluted in any way at all."

Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Danny Kennedy said: "I feel the hands of the NIO or Whitehall simply trying to pander to elements that will never be satisfied - people who are opposed to this will always be opposed to this."

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