30,000 Protestants marched in Belfast today to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, a document that opposed home rule for Ireland and set the stage for the creation of Northern Ireland, the Guardian reported.
Fearing violence along the six-mile marching route from central Belfast to the Stormont parliament building, the city launched its biggest policing operation in 20 years to keep order, BBC News reported. According to the Guardian, hundreds of armored police Land Rovers were parked at possible hotspots across Belfast.
Every summer, pro-British union ‘loyal orders’ – the most prominent are the Orangemen and the Apprentice Boys – march with fife and drum bands in a series of parades in Belfast to commemorate important historical dates, the Associated Press reported.
According to the AP:
For most Catholics, the marches are offensive, considered mass intimidation by the Protestant majority.
Today, Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Matt Baggott told BBC News that the parade had been been "dignified.” He added, "there's been an overwhelming mood of dignity and respect and enjoyment and mutual co-operation.”
Gerry Kelly, a Sinn Féin minister, also praised the fact that the marchers had been peaceful, the Guardian reported.
However, Catholic residents complained that some of the bands had played unionist anthems as they went past one of Belfast's oldest Catholic churches, a violation of a rule that the marchers could only play religious hymns near the church.
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