Published Friday, 29 November 2013
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A group calling itself Loyalist Peaceful Protesters has been given permission by the parading watchdog to bring up to 10,000 people into the city centre for the demonstration.
The parade has been organised ahead of the one year anniversary of Belfast City Council's decision to restrict the number of days it flies the Union Flag at city hall.
There have been widespread calls for the event, organised for one of the busiest shopping days of the year, to be called off or re-arranged in order to minimise the impact on beleaguered traders in the city.
Earlier this week the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she "wished" the protest wasn't taking place.
Justice Minister David Ford echoed her sentiment in an interview with UTV.
He said: "Nobody who is a responsible citizen should be adding any pressures to the work of the police at this time.
"What's absolutely clear is that if people do wish to demonstrate they should do it, not just peacefully, but lawfully.
"There's a Parades Commission determination that they should be clear of the city hall at 12pm and clear of the city centre by 12.30pm.
"They should stick to that and they should obey the law as it is set down by the Parades Commission.
"And they should allow those that want to go and shop in the city centre on the busiest shopping day of the year - as it's been described - the opportunity to do so freely and without fear of what might happen."
The Alliance leader added: "I certainly wish it wasn't happening, indeed some of those organising it seem to recognise that it will have no affect at all on the city council vote, so we do have to question why they are doing so.
"But I repeat the point, if they wish to demonstrate, it must be lawful and it must therefore be out of the city centre to allow normal trade to happen.
"I don't know what the potential for trouble is, I certainly hope there will be no trouble whatsoever."
The South Antrim MLA's call comes after dissident republicans forced a driver to take a bomb into the city centre.
The intended target was one of the city's main shopping centres, Victoria Square.
Mr Ford added: "I will be in Belfast doing my Christmas shopping and hope others will because it is important we live a normal life.
"People should be careful, but that doesn't mean they should run in complete fear and panic."
© UTV News