BELFAST (Reuters) - Rioters threw petrol bombs at police in Northern Ireland overnight on the eve of annual parades that often raise tensions between pro-British Protestants and Irish nationalist Catholics in the British region, police said on Friday.
Tens of thousands of members of Northern Ireland’s Protestant Orange Order, many in orange sashes and bowler hats, began marching on Friday to mark a 1690 Protestant victory over a Catholic king.
The annual commemorations, seen as triumphalist by many Catholics, were flash points during 30 years of sectarian violence, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. They have continued to cause low-level street violence since a 1998 peace deal largely ended paramilitary violence.
Hundreds of bonfires were lit at nightfall on Thursday across the province to mark the start of the celebrations. Petrol bombs were thrown at officers at the interface between Catholic and Protestant areas in west Belfast. Two teenagers were arrested.
Still, the night passed off more peacefully than in recent years.
“I am relieved that over the past 24 hours we did not see a repeat of the violence we witnessed on our streets this time last year,” Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said in a statement.
Editing by Padraic Halpin and Janet Lawrence