Army bomb disposal officers bring equipment to deal with a car containing a suspect device in East Belfast. Image Credit: Reuters

Belfast: Northern Irish fire crews were attacked and cars hijacked in Belfast, amid a night of unrest before the climax of the region’s traditionally tense marching season.

Three fire service crew were attacked as they were called to deal with 57 bonfire-related incidents, Alan Walmsley, the region’s assistant chief fire & rescue officer, said in an interview with Dublin-broadcaster RTE on Thursday. Damage was minor, Walmsley said. On Wednesday, police said loyalist paramilitary groups intended to “orchestrate and participate in serious disorder” in east Belfast and called for calm.

More than 3,000 marches, many celebrating a historic Protestant victory over Catholics, take place each year across the UK province, climaxing in parades on July 12 that attract an estimated 500,000 participants and spectators. The Order was founded in 1795 to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne, when King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James in a battle to maintain Protestant supremacy in Ireland.

The organisation aims to unify Protestants against calls for an end to British rule. Some Catholics, who tend to favour a united Ireland, say marches stir up hatred.