In a night of what Belfast's assistant police chief called, "sheer thuggery," 56 police officers and two civilians were injured as fights broke out between Protestants and Catholics in the Northern Ireland city. It began when Protestants tried to block a Catholic parade on Friday evening, and began throwing bricks, bottles, and fireworks at police. Four officers were taken to the hospital, but most other injuries were minor. On Thursday night, a crowd in a Catholic neighborhood threw paint bombs and bottles at police.
"Many of the injuries were minor, but four officers were taken to hospital after the clashes late on Friday, during which police fired plastic bullets and water cannon after being pelted with missiles for a second successive night.
Belfast remains divided between pro-British Protestants and Catholics who generally favor unification with Ireland, despite a 1998 peace and power-sharing deal that put an end to the worst of the "troubles" in the British province.
Protestants tried to block a march on Friday evening along the city's main thoroughfare, Royal Avenue, by the nationalist side of the community and when police moved in to clear them, they threw bricks, bottles and fireworks.
Burnt-out cars and rubble littered the city centre and shop fronts were damaged. Police said seven people were arrested.
"It was sheer thuggery," said Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, who commanded Friday night's police operation."
Two civilians were also injured in the melee, and police reported that seven people were arrested. Another eight were injured on Thursday night when a crowd at a bonfire to mark the anniversary in a Catholic-dominated part of Belfast threw paint bombs, bottles and masonry at police.
It was 42 years ago that soldiers swept into Catholic districts and arrested more than 340 people as the British government sought to stop the growing Irish Republican Army (IRA) violence aimed at bringing an end to rule from London.
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