21/08/2009

Appeals For Calm Ahead Of March

Scores of demonstrators are expected to picket a contentious loyalist band parade in Co Antrim this evening.

The North's Parades Commission, who approved the Rasharkin march, has appealed for calm in the village, and called on local political leaders to use their influence to help ensure a peaceful outcome.

Reports have suggested up to 200 nationalist residents could take part in the counter-protest, despite the Commission limiting numbers to 130, including marshals.

Around 40 bands will march in tonight's parade, with paramilitary flags and emblems banned from the event.

Commission Chairperson Rena Shepherd said she is aware of the serious tensions in the area.

"We look to political and community leaders to do all they can to reduce tension on the ground and ensure as far as possible that the parade passes peacefully," Ms Shepherd added.

"Our decision represents our best efforts to strike a balance between the rights of residents and the rights of those who wish to parade.

"As in other areas we only became involved in Rasharkin because there was no local agreement.

"Local parading disputes must be addressed by local people and when this parading season has concluded we will be focussing our efforts on establishing a meaningful and robust dialogue process in Rasharkin."

There has been a series of sectarian attacks in the village over recent months, with both Catholic churches and Orange halls coming under attack.

Sinn Fein has insisted this evening's band march should not go ahead due to simmering tensions, while the DUP has supported the parade's right to be held.

(PR/BMcC)

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