THE First Minister has criticised opposition parties over a rise in sectarian tensions.

Nicola Sturgeon said the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) last year had sent “entirely the wrong signal”.

Clashes between loyalist and republican marchers in Glasgow last month saw riot police having to intervene, and the council introduced a temporary ban on marches.

Amid the rise in sectarian tensions, more than 536 police officers were hurt as a result of assaults between April and June – a rise of 32% on 2018.

READ MORE: First Minister: 'Scottish Tories have completely abandoned our interests'

SNP MSP Kenny Gibson, at First Minister’s Questions, asked Sturgeon if she felt the repeal of the Act had “sent a signal that behaviour considered unacceptable just a couple of years ago is somehow less reprehensible”.

The First Minister replied: “Yes, I agree with Kenny Gibson. I’ve consistently said that the repeal of the Act in my opinion sent entirely the wrong signal.

“The Scottish Government resisted appeal because no viable alternative was offered at that time, and as we have clearly seen since, the issue of sectarianism at football has not gone away.

“Repealing the Act rather than seeking to strengthen it took away important protections to help us address the issue, and we now have to deal with the consequences because of this.

READ MORE: FMQs sketch: How Carlaw turns missing the point into an artform

“The tactics used by Police Scotland to police events and parades are obviously an operational matter for the Chief Constable. However I know that all police officers receive regular officer safety training, and all public order officers receive additional training and have access to enhanced protective equipment.

“Nobody should be the victim of abuse or violence while at work. Attacks against our police officers despicable and the perpetrators must be dealt with in the strongest possible way.

“There is a wide range of powers available to tackle such crimes and we fully support the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in dealing robustly with perpetrators.”

Sturgeon added that those convicted of assaulting the emergency services could be jailed of up to 12 months and face fines of £10,000, and new restitution orders would add more fines.

The bid to repeal OBFA was led by Labour MSP James Kelly, and passed in March last year after a narrow vote of 62-60.

Kelly had described it as “the worst piece of legislation in Scottish Parliament history”.

The law had been brought in by ministers in 2012 after a run of incidents, including 35 arrests and a clash between club managers at an Old Firm game.

Critics among Holyrood’s opposition parties said the legislation unfairly targeted football fans and failed to take the problem of sectarianism.