'Anarchy' leaves 56 officers hurt in Belfast.

AuthorPogatchnik, Shawn

Byline: Shawn Pogatchnik

DUBLIN -- Northern Ireland's police chief vowed Saturday to hunt down and imprison scores of Protestant militants after they attacked and wounded 56 officers protecting a parade by Irish Republican Army supporters.

Friday night's outbreak of violence in downtown Belfast could be the first in a tense weekend involving disputed parades by both the Irish Catholic and British Protestant extremes of society.

Senior police said Protestant extremists encouraged by social-media messages rallied to block the parade on Royal Avenue, Belfast's major shopping boulevard. Some wore British flags as capes or masks, and tore up scaffolding and pavement stones to attack police girded in full riot gear.

Police responded by striking rioters with water cannons and 26 plastic bullets -- blunt-nosed cylinders designed to deal punishing blows without penetrating the flesh. Several protesters could be seen staggering away from the confrontation zone with bloodied faces.

Protestant politicians said security officials should never have authorized what they called a deliberately provocative march by Irish republican hard-liners opposed to Northern Ireland's peace process.

After rival crowds of march supporters and opponents briefly outflanked police lines to trade salvos of rocks and bottles, march organizers abandoned their plan to parade past Belfast City Hall and diverted it back into Catholic turf.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said Northern Ireland's prison population soon "will be bulging'' as detectives used video footage to identify and arrest rioters.

Baggott said seven people were arrested Friday night for attacks on police and the...

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