Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Sunday, 2 November 2008

30,000 in city for forces' parade


Watch the forces' homecoming parade in Belfast city centre

A homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has passed off peacefully in Belfast.

Thousands of people, many waving Union flags, cheered as the parade made its through the city centre.

Police have estimated that there were around 30,000 people at the event, either supporting or protesting against it.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said there had been just one arrest so far - a 16-year-old youth.

However, ACC Finlay said officers were "continuing to look at video evidence".

About 250 members of the armed forces took part in the main parade, including soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment, Irish Guards, Royal Dragoon Guards and the Territorial Army.

A number of protest events were held in different parts of the city.

Sinn Féin protesters took part in a demonstration against the British Army's role in the Troubles. This assembled at Dunville Park in west Belfast and made its way to the city centre, close to where the forces parade was taking place.

Dissident republican protest
A dissident republican counter parade was stopped by police

At one point, Sinn Féin protesters and supporters of the parade were less than 100m apart.

There were brief skirmishes, however, police moved in to restore calm.

ACC Finlay said the police "acknowledged the significant effort, in conjunction with parade and protest organisers and political and community representatives, that has gone into the planning of today's events".

A car windscreen was damaged by a firework on the Westlink. Fireworks were also thrown in Royal Avenue and York Street, and stones were thrown by youths in the Divis Street area.

A police officer was hit with a can in Fisherwick Place.

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice, which held a protest, claimed families were targeted by loyalists throwing bottles.

Police stopped a separate dissident republican counter parade from marching into the centre of Belfast at the bottom of the Falls Road. They dispersed after a number of speeches were made.

Several thousand people walked down the Shankill Road with banners welcoming the soldiers.

Supporters of the parade
Supporters of the forces' parade welcomed troops to city centre

Sinn Féin said it was inappropriate to mark the homecoming because British troops were responsible for the deaths of Catholic civilians during the Troubles.

But unionists said the Army had every right to walk the streets of Belfast. They said that the changes made to the parade meant troops in Northern Ireland would receive a different welcome home than soldiers elsewhere in the UK.

Major General Chris Brown, the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, said the parade was a "fitting tribute".

"It's been an entirely appropriate welcome home for the troops after an arduous tour in Afghanistan and, for some of them, in Iraq," he said.

"Thanks very much to the efforts of Belfast city council and also, what a turn out from the city of Belfast, and thanks to all the support that we had to do this."

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