Catholics target Protestant marchers in N. Ireland riots

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Catholic rioters in Northern Ireland hurled petrol bombs, rocks, and other missiles at a Protestant parade and their police escort Monday, on the biggest day of the British province's marching season.

Several heavily armed police officers were injured as the Protestant Orangemen passed through the notorious Belfast flashpoint, according to police.

Police responded to the protesters by firing baton rounds and a water cannon. The demonstrators are angry that the annual march was allowed to pass the Ardoyne shops in the north of the city.

The were no reports of the Protestant marchers receiving any injuries as they passed through the Belfast hotspot.

Earlier in the day, police officers in body armour removed more than 100 demonstrators who staged a sit-down protest in the road.

The fresh outburst of violence came after rioting overnight by Catholics left 27 police injured in Northern Ireland, including three with gunshot wounds, officials said. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

July 12 is the biggest day in Northern Ireland's marching season and sees Protestants mark Prince William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Despite the relative calm in Northern Ireland since a peace agreement in 1998, violence frequently breaks out around July 12 as Catholics try to prevent the marches from going ahead.

© 2010 AFP

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