Northern Ireland

Anti-racism rallies take place in Belfast and Derry

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Media captionAnti-racism rallies were held in Belfast and Londonderry

About 4,000 people have attended anti-racism rallies in Belfast and Londonderry following a recent spate of racist attacks in Northern Ireland.

Speakers included MLA Anna Lo, who this week said racist abuse had influenced her decision not to seek re-election.

The rallies also followed controversy over a Belfast pastor who described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic".

Pastor James McConnell received support from some NI politicians, including First Minister Peter Robinson.

Last week, Mr Robinson said he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or devotees of Sharia law, but would trust Muslims "to go to the shops" for him.

The first minister has since clarified his remarks, claimed he was misinterpreted, and apologised to Islamic leaders in Belfast.

Image caption About 100 people attend the rally in Derry

The Belfast event, Stand Up and Rally Against Racism, began at the city hall at noon.

It was attended by about 4,000 people, according to a police spokeswoman.

The crowd chanted Anna Lo's name and cheered when they were addressed by the Hong-Kong born MLA, who is a member of the Alliance party.

Ms Lo told the rally she was "not going away" and said everyone must stand up against racism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

"Plenty of people have shown they want a diverse society," she told the crowd.

"They want respect for ethnic minorities. What Mr Robinson said was total disrespect and condescending of the Muslim community."

'Ethnic cleansing'

Muslim leaders were also among the gathering in Belfast.

Earlier this month, police said they were reviewing the number of patrols in Belfast following a spate of hate crime attacks on homes and property in the city.

Image caption Shoppers outside a Tesco branch in Belfast city centre made reference to the comments made by Mr Robinson

In April, a senior police officer said said the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), had been orchestrating racist attacks in south and east Belfast.

ACC Will Kerr told the Policing Board it had contributed to an overall 70% rise in hate crime in Belfast and had "a deeply unpleasant taste of a bit of ethnic cleansing".

Saturday's anti-racism rally in Derry attracted about 100 supporters.

Among the crowd was Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and Mayor of Derry Martin Reilly.

The city centre rally was addressed by a member of the local Muslim community, Sameh Hassan.

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