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Spate of Racist Incidents Spark Protest in Belfast and Derry

Thousands of protesters in Belfast and Derry took to the streets to condemn increasing racism in Northern Ireland.

Up to 4,000 Belfast protesters attended the event staged near the city hall. Among the speakers are MLA Anna Lo of the Alliance Party. The Hong Kong-born Lo urged the crowd to fight racism and sectarianism. Lo herself told the Belfast Telegraph that she felt vulnerable after an incident in early May where a group of loyalists hurled racial slurs against her while her car was parked in a Belfast shopping centre.

In Derry, about one hundred protesters also denounced the recent string of racist attacks in Northern Ireland.  Among those who attended the rally held in the city centre were Environment Minister Mark Durkan  and Mayor Martin Reilly.

The protests also came after a controversial anti-Islam comment by Belfast-based pastor James McConnell who said that Islam is satanic and heathen. McConnell claimed he was misinterpreted and has publicly apologised for his comments.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson got embroiled in the controversy when he defended McConnell. He got under fire when he said in an Irish News interview that he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or devotees of Sharia law, but would trust Muslims "to go to the shops" for him, although he has since apologised for his remarks.

Northern Ireland has a low black and ethnic minority population (approximately 36,000), but the occurrence of race-related incidents in the country is relatively high. Officials estimate that there are 5,000 racist crimes per year in Northern Ireland with at least two attacks taking place each day. Belfast accounts for 70% of all racial incidents in Northern Ireland.

It is estimated that there has been an increase of 43% in race-related attacks this year. But officials are concerned that more racist crimes are being committed in the country. Will Kerr, Assistant Chief Constable, said in a UTV News interview that many incidents are not being reported to the authorities. More patrols are being planned by the police to counter the recent spike in race-related attacks.


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