G8: Anti-summit rally passes off peacefully
An anti-G8 rally in Belfast has passed off peacefully amid an unprecedented security operation.
Fears that extremists were planning to hijack the trade union-organised event and spark disorder proved misplaced as the demonstration took place without incident.
An hour after the rally finished no arrests had been reported.
A police estimate that 1,500 people took part may have been on the conservative side, but the total did not approach the 5,000 predicted to attend - a fact which may have been influenced by horrendous weather conditions.
Rain poured down almost constantly as demonstrators, advocating a range of both local and global issues, marched through the city centre ahead of the rally at City Hall.
A flash point could have potentially developed outside the landmark as the march was met by around 100 Northern Ireland based Union flag protesters, who hold weekly pickets at City Hall to object to Belfast City Council's decision last year to limit the number of days the flag flies on the building.
While participants in the separate protests would be at odds on many issues, including the conflict in the Middle East, direct confrontation was prevented by a massed line of police officers.
There were a number of isolated incidents where police had to intervene to limit the movement of small groups or individual loyalists, but nothing more serious developed.
The security operation around the event was on a scale not witnessed in the city before, with hundreds of public order officers flanking the rally.
Scores of fortified Land Rover-type vehicles were parked up on side streets ready to be deployed while police helicopters circled constantly overhead.
Security will be as tight on Monday when US President Barack Obama visits ahead of travelling down to Co Fermanagh for the start of the G8 summit.
For the days around the G8 police have made 260 temporary holding cells available for potential trouble makers while 16 judges are on stand-by to preside over special courts.
But at the Belfast protest at least, authorities will be relieved such additional capacity was not required.
Environmentalists, trade unionists and other civil society activists took part in what was a colourful and good spirited event, despite the incessant rain.
A range of trade union leaders and other campaigners spoke to the drenched crowds from a temporary stage outside City Hall.
Pamela Dooley, chair of the Northern Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, told the audience the G8 did not act in their name.
"As we meet here today over one billion people on the planet are living in extreme poverty and are facing starvation, malnutrition and early death," she said.
"Much of the responsibility for that crisis lies at door of the West and those meeting in Fermanagh.
"We have long worked in solidarity with our brothers and sisters facing oppression, poverty and starvation. We are today confronting real power with the demand for justice."
She added: "Across this planet women and children face rape, abuse, exploitation and death while the profiteers and war mongers grab more profit, more land, more power.
"We know the difference between right and wrong. We are calling the leaders to account. No amount of political spin can disguise the blood on their hands.
"We say - not in our name.
"We will not be sidelined or silenced. If the resources which have been put into so called security this week had been diverted into challenging inequality then this would be a better world."
James Orr, Friends of the Earth's Northern Ireland director, said: "G8 nations should be taking the lead in tackling climate change, instead of driving forward policies that keep their economies hooked on dirty, damaging and increasingly costly fossil fuels.
"People across the UK, including Northern Ireland, are rightly concerned about the threat fracking poses to their communities, local environment and the global climate.
"It's time to put the long term future of the planet first - and develop a clean energy future we can all afford."
The G8 leaders will travel to the Lough Erne Golf Resort in Fermanagh for the two-day meeting starting on Monday.
A separate concert for the IF anti-food poverty campaign, spearheaded by charities working in the developing world, was staged in the city's Botanic Gardens this afternoon, with acts including indie rockers Two Door Cinema Club.
The concert was a sell out, with around 8,000 people due to attend.