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Belfast mayor jostled by loyalist crowd at park re-opening event

  |   Aug. 8, 2013 at 12:05 AM
BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The mayor of Belfast said this week the "anti-peace elements" will not win in Northern Ireland after he was roughed up by loyalist protesters at an event.

Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir, a member of the nationalist Sinn Fein party, was jostled Tuesday as he made was way through an angry crowd at the re-opening of a park in the Woodvale district of north Belfast, video by posted by the Belfast Telegraph showed.

O Muilleoir was surrounded by a police escort as he was taken into a car, while demonstrators cursed and shoved the officers as they pushed their way through the mob. Officers were punched, kicked and knocked to the ground, authorities said.

O Muilleoir was briefly hospitalized after the incident and nine officers were hurt in the melee, which brought condemnations from Ulster's justice minister and the non-sectarian Alliance Party.

The 53-year-old mayor tweeted shortly after the event he was alright, writing, "All well leaving Woodvale. Great investments in future. Minority of people will not drag Belfast back."

He later indicated he had undergone a "check-up" in the hospital after emerging from the incident "sore in a few spots," but later went on to make his next engagement.

Rioting fueled by the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall broke out in Belfast in December, while last month rioters took to the streets of the Woodvale district for five nights after city officials barred the annual loyalist July 12 parade near the nationalist Ardoyne neighborhood.

The parades celebrate the date in 1690 when the Protestant British king William III of Orange deposed Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne.

Since the clashes, Orangemen and their supporters have continued to hold protests in Woodvale over the Parades Commission ruling, including a report of a shot being fired in the area Monday.

Democratic Unionist Party Alderman William Humphrey told The (Belfast) News Letter the mayor had been warned not to attend the park re-opening in the wake of rising sectarian tensions and that the situation was "preventable."

"As councilors for Court Electoral Area we communicated to Belfast City Council and the lord mayor's unit, going back over the past month, our concerns regarding the lord mayor officiating at the Woodvale Park re-opening event," he said.

"In light of the highly sensitive situation over recent months, with the removal of the Union Flag from City Hall, the blocking of the Twelfth of July parade at Woodvale for the first time and the ongoing attacks on our community, we expressed the view that it would be totally inappropriate for the lord mayor ... to officiate at the public re-opening of Woodvale Park."

But O Muilleoir wrote he had assurances the event was safe for him to attend.

"As Lord Mayor for all, promised 2 visit every part of Belfast if invited, police advice was safe 2go Woodvl, anti-peace elements will not win," he tweeted.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford condemned the incident in a statement.

"Anyone going about their civic duty should be free to do so free from harassment, violence and intimidation," he said. "Such violence against elected representatives and the police must be condemned."

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