Belfast (Northern Ireland): Belfast riot police braced for a second night of conflict with Irish nationalists Monday as Protestants from the conservative Orange Order brotherhood mounted their divisive annual marches across Northern Ireland.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said 27 officers suffered mostly minor injuries during street clashes with more than 200 masked Irish Catholics, who threw Molotov cocktails, bricks and other makeshift weapons at rows of shield-wielding police backed by armoured vehicles.
One attacker also fired at least one round from a shotgun, hitting three officers with pellets. Police said their injuries were not serious, in part because Northern Ireland riot police wear heavy protection, including helmets and head-to-toe flame retardant suits.
The Orange Order`s annual July 12 marches commemorate a 17th-century battlefield victory over Irish Catholics. The mass Protestant demonstrations have always stirred sectarian passions and have fuelled a four-decade conflict over Northern Ireland that has left 3,700 dead.
But marching-inspired violence has greatly reduced over the past decade amid wider peace agreements and British-imposed restrictions on where the Protestants — accompanied by so-called "kick the pope" bands of fife and drum — can march. Protestants initially opposed the restrictions with violent standoffs but resentfully accept them today.
More than 50,000 Protestants assembled Monday at 18 marching locations across this British territory of 1.8 million. They paraded under banners depicting the July 12, 1690, victory of Protestant King William of Orange versus the forces of his rival for the British throne, James II, at the Battle of the Boyne south of Belfast.