Chief Constable Matt Baggott had sharp words for the protesters who tried to stop a republican parade through Belfast's main shopping district Friday night, CNN reported. The parade, which marked the anniversary of the introduction of internment in 1971 during the Troubles, had to be rerouted.
"I know the majority of the population will stand with me in condemning those who scarred the reputation of our beautiful city last night," Baggott said. "Those people had no intention of peaceful protest. They lack self respect and they lack dignity."
The Police Service of Northern Ireland reported the number of officers known to be injured had swelled by Saturday morning to 56, at least five of them seriously hurt. Seven people were arrested.
Baggott said anyone convicted of violence can expect "significant" prison time.
"The prisons will be bulging, sadly," he said.
George Hamilton, the assistant chief constable in charge of Friday night's operation, said 1,200 people assembled in Belfast to protest the republican march. He said many in the crowd hurled paving stones, bricks and anything else they could find at police and called their actions "sheer thuggery."
Hamilton said the Friday disturbance "has the potential to damage the local economy and the reputation of Belfast as a tourist destination" and called on "people of influence" to "do all possible to reduce tension."
Nelson McCausland of the Democratic Unionist Party charged the parade had been planned to provoke a reaction from loyalists.
Eight police officers were injured at an anti-internment rally Thursday night.
The violence has erupted as thousands of international visitors are in Belfast for the World Police and Fire Games.
There has been a sharp increase in sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. It began with violent loyalist protests after the Belfast city council voted in December to limit the number of days the British flag is flown at city hall and has included attacks on police and bombings by dissident republican groups.
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