Counter demo outnumbers small anti-refugee protest
Only around 40 people took part took part in an anti-refugee parade and rally in Belfast at the weekend.
There was a strong police presence at the Protestant Coalition event, which took place just days before 51 Syrian refugees are set to arrive in the north.
The demonstration had faced strong opposition from Protestant Church leaders and politicians, and was met with a much larger counter-protest organised by the group Belfast Anti-Fascists.
After marching down Royal Avenue a short protest was held outside the city hall with banners including the slogans “Ulster says no to refugees” and “Muslims don’t integrate, they want to dominate”.
Several prominent members of the Protestant Coalition, including loyalist victims campaigner Willie Frazer, took part in the event organised in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
It was also reported that killer Glen Kane was among those who took part in the protest.
He was one of several men convicted of manslaughter after Catholic man Kieran Abram (35) was beaten to death by a loyalist mob at North Howard Street in west Belfast in 1992.
The victim was beaten with wooden bats that had been spiked with nails.
Belfast Anti-Fascists said up to 300 people took part in a counter protest.
They held up posters and banners in support of refugees while African-style drums were played in the background.
Eleven Muslim and Christian families are due to arrive in Belfast from Beirut this week in the first group of security-vetted Syrian refugees to be resettled in Northern Ireland.
Speaking after the Saturday protest, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, a prominent member of the Muslim community in Belfast, said he was encouraged.
“What I can see on this side of the rally, there are more people supporting the refugees than against the refugees,” he told UTV.
“These people who are anti-refugees do not represent Belfast, they don’t represent the loyalist community and they don’t represent Protestant community because the vast majority of the Protestant community leaders condemn them.”
Mr Frazer, who spoke at the event, last night defended the protests and rejected any suggestion they were racist.
“There is an attempt to demonise the message," he said. “The message is not about individual refugees, it’s about the risk of bringing refugees into this country at this time.”
Mr Frazer added that although he was not involved in organising Saturday's event, there may be similar protests in future.