Glasgow police warn 'bigots' amid fears of Orange Order violence

Police in Glasgow warned that they will show zero tolerance towards sectarian behaviour during the city's main Orange Order parade today.

More than 8,000 people are due to take to part in the traditional highlight of the Scottish Protestant marching season which this year follows heightened tensions between supporters of the city's two main football clubs, Celtic and Rangers.

The traditional rivalry culminated in a potentially lethal parcel-bomb campaign against leading Catholics including the Celtic manager Neil Lennon and sparked the worst crisis in the Scottish game for more than a decade. Community leaders are hoping that today's march will set the tone for a more peaceful new season which kicks off in just three weeks time.

Chief Superintendent Bernard Higgins of Strathclyde Police warned anyone intent on making trouble to stay at home. "By all means come to support the parade but don't bring booze and don't behave like a bigot or you could find yourself spending the rest of the weekend in a cell," he said.

"We will not tolerate anti-sectarian behaviour of any kind and my officers will adopt a zero-tolerance approach," he warned.

More than 40,000 people are expected to line the route for this year's march. Pipe bands will set off from four different corners of the city before converging on St George's Square for a wreath-laying ceremony. They will follow an altered route from previous years which have seen scores of arrests, mainly for anti-social behaviour and drunkenness.

Marchers from east Glasgow will still pass through the Gallowgate area where there are a number of Celtic-supporting bars. However, in an attempt to limit the influence alcohol will have on proceedings, the marches will set off at lunchtime – four hours earlier than normal. Members of the 182 Orange lodges will be expected to disperse much sooner, cutting down on the opportunity for disorder.

Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the Orange Order, said: "I call upon every member of the Order to enjoy the day with the utmost decorum. I also have a message to our more boisterous supporters: 'You are welcome, but please enjoy the music, colour and excitement of the march responsibly – and leave the booze at home'."

Amid mounting concern over the cost of policing Glasgow's marches, this year 800 trained Orange Order stewards will take over responsibility for marshalling the event. This will free up police officers to concentrate on spotting bad behaviour emanating from the crowd. By bringing the event forward, organisers say this will concentrate activity within a single police shift and help reduce the amount of overtime payments, which last year totalled £700,000.

Attempts to limit the number of parades taking place last year were condemned by the Orange Order as "discriminatory and illegal".

A spokesman for the anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth said it was vital the new marshalling arrangements were closely monitored. "Given the size of Saturday's parade and the history of previous disorder, march organisers must work closely with the police to tackle any anti-social or sectarian behaviour which may occur," he said.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, was forced into a U-turn last week over the introduction of anti-sectarian legislation which could have seen the singing of the national anthem banned at football matches and even the wearing of the cross.

While Mr Salmond wanted to see the new laws on the statute book in time for the new football season, critics claimed the legislation was being rushed through. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill is now expected to be on the statute book by the end of the year.

Timeline

*January 2011: Bullets sent to Northern Ireland-born Celtic manager Neil Lennon in the post are intercepted at Co Antrim sorting office.

*March: First Minister Alex Salmond calls in football chiefs and police after violence mars Old Firm game in which three players are sent off, 13 booked and 34 fans arrested. Lennon and Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist are engaged in a bitter touchline confrontation. The clubs meet seven times during the season.

*April: Royal Mail intercepts two "viable" parcel bombs addressed to Lennon. Other leading Catholics targeted are lawyer Paul McBride QC and former MSP Trish Godman. Two people charged in connection with the alleged devices.

*May: Lennon attacked by fan during Hearts match in Edinburgh. Scottish football chiefs promise to crack down on violence.

*June: Scottish Government delay plans to introduce legislation outlawing-sectarianism at football matches. Five years in prison and unlimited fines could be deployed against those that engage in threatening behaviour.

*July: Football season due to resume three weeks early despite condemnation from clubs.

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