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Orange Order parades take place amid violence in Northern Ireland

Thousands of Orange Order members have taken part in 12 July parades across Northern Ireland after a night of sporadic violence in the region.

Masked men hijacked and set 13 vehicles on fire in and around Belfast, while young republicans threw petrol bombs at police during a fifth night of disorder in the Bogside area of Derry.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: “The disorder we have seen has been caused by a small minority of people who have no regard for their communities.

“No part of this is acceptable and today we are looking at the evidential picture to pursue lines of inquiry.

“I would like to pay tribute to the job that my officers, along with other emergency services, did last night. No one wants to see disruption and disorder and the people behind these incidents need to ask themselves just what they are achieving.”

While 12 July has passed off peacefully in Northern Ireland in recent years, helped largely by the resolution of a longstanding dispute about a parade route in Belfast, the overnight disorder means these commemorations take place amid tensions and concerns about the prospect of further trouble later on Thursday.

The deal between Orangemen and nationalist residents over arguably the most contentious parade, past the nationalist Ardoyne community in north Belfast, ensured there were no incidents on Thursday morning.

This parade was one of about 600 feeder processions taking place across Northern Ireland, with Orange Order members and supporting loyalist bands congregating at 17 host venues for events to mark the victory of the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

It is the most significant date in the Protestant loyal order parading calendar.

On Wednesday night, a suspected pipe bomb detonated close to a police operation to clear a contentious fire site in Belfast, while other security alerts prompted the closure of main roads, with one incident preventing passengers from exiting Belfast City airport.

Masked men also used burning cars to block roads close to Ulster hospital in Dundonald, while a bus with passengers onboard was hijacked before being set alight in Newtownards.

Police had warned the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was planning to “orchestrate and participate in serious disorder” in east Belfast.

The violence came after loyalists expressed anger at moves by authorities to limit the size of bonfires at two controversial sites in the east of the city. Hundreds of eleventh night bonfires were lit at midnight across Northern Ireland to usher in 12 July.

By 1am on Thursday, the Northern Ireland fire and rescue service had received 327 emergency calls, mobilised to 164 operational incidents, 57 of which were bonfire-related.

Fire officers said the figures represented a 23% increase on last year.

Fire engines came under attack on three occasions, at Carnhill in Derry, Moygashel near Dungannon and Ballycarry. No firefighters were injured.

While the majority of bonfires in Northern Ireland pass off without incident each year, in recent years there have been tensions in east Belfast over the size of two pyres, with many residents fearful of potential damage to their properties.

Loyalists claimed they had taken steps to minimise risk to buildings this year and characterised attempts to restrict bonfires as attacks on their culture.

The violence in Derry has been continuing for five nights and does not appear to be directly linked to a bonfire or parading dispute. Republicans in the Bogside, most of them young people, have been engaging in sporadic disorder, targeting police and unionist residents.

On Tuesday night, dissident republicans opened fire at police officers with an automatic weapon. No one was injured.

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