BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Protestant hardliners attacked lines of Belfast riot police Friday as Northern Ireland’s annual mass marches by the Orange Order brotherhood reached a furious, chaotic end with running street battles at several conflict zones.
In north Belfast, police in flame-retardant suits and helmets deployed a half-dozen armored cars to block a road so that Protestant Orangemen could not march past the edge of Ardoyne, a militant Catholic district that has become the most bitterly contested spot on the city map.
Men jumped on top of the armored barricade and, as hundreds of marchers and supporters formed a sea of often alcohol-fueled fury behind them, wielded pipes, golf clubs, wood planks and even ceremonial swords to vandalize the police vans.
Emboldened, some threw bottles and bricks point-blank into police lines. Many in the mob cheered as one policeman, struck and knocked semiconscious, was dragged to safety by colleagues.
Officers responded by firing a massive mobile water cannon at the rioters, propelling at least one shirtless man sideways off the roof of an armored car and on to the pavement, his forehead split open.
But the Protestant crowd kept swelling and hurling objects into police lines, forcing officers to respond with volleys of snub-nosed plastic bullets in a failed bid to force the crowd to disperse or retreat.
During melees that lasted for hours, police said at least 23 officers and several rioters were injured, as was the Protestant politician who represents north Belfast in British Parliament, Nigel Dodds.
Dodds was struck in the head with a brick and knocked unconscious while talking to Orangemen standing near the police barricade. His Democratic Unionist Party, the largest in Northern Ireland, later said he had regained consciousness in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
Leaders of the Orange Order vowed to keep Protestants rallying to the confrontation zone until police caved in and permitted the march past Ardoyne.