Second night of riots in Northern Ireland

Hundreds involved in sectarian clashes and police vans attacked in worst violence in Belfast in years.

    Sectarian clashes involving hundreds of people continued for a second night in Northern Ireland in the worst violence in the province in years, police said.

    A press photographer was shot in the leg and two other people suffered burns on Tuesday evening as up to 700 people threw fireworks, petrol bombs and other missiles at each other in a Catholic enclave in east Belfast.

    Police fired stun grenades as clashes broke out and groups of hooded and masked men pelted each other with stones and missiles, and many attacked police vans.

    'Worst violence'

    The violence first erupted on Monday after suspected Protestant gangs, who support British rule in the province, attacked homes overnight in Short Strand, a Catholic district in mostly Protestant east Belfast, local officials said.

    Police blamed members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the deadliest pro-British paramilitary groups during the province's long-running sectarian conflict, for initiating the first night of disorder.

    The violence reignited late on Tuesday as local television station UTV reported that a man was seriously ill in hospital after his skull was fractured by a breeze block.

    "It is probably the worst violence we have seen in that area for some considerable time," said Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

    Niall O'Donnghaile, Belfast's mayor and a councillor for the republican Sinn Fein party, said it was a "tense and dangerous situation".

    "They've hit homes with paint bombs, pipe bombs and petrol bombs. There's a number of Short Strand residents who are injured and a number of homes have been damaged," he added.

    'Unprovoked attacks'

    Michael Copeland, an Ulster Unionist lawmaker, confirmed that several hundred people had been engaged "in hand-to-hand fighting."

    O'Donnghaile claimed that the attacks were unprovoked, but Copeland claimed the violence was in response to attacks by Catholic republicans, who favour a united Ireland, on Protestant properties over the last week.

    "It doesn't really matter who is responsible at this stage. It's getting it stopped that is the problem. You have two sides to these stories," Copeland said.

    Unionist and republican-backed parties share power in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was set up following a 1998 agreement that ended years of sectarian violence, known as "The Troubles", in which around 3,500 people died.

    The area affected by the rioting is one of more than 30 areas of Belfast where high barricades separate Catholic and Protestant areas.

    Such barricades, called "peace lines" locally, have grown in number and size, despite the success of 1998 peace accord.

    Sectarian tensions typically flare in the build-up to July 12, a divisive holiday when tens of thousands of Protestants from the Orange Order brotherhood march across Northern Ireland.

    The parades commemorate British victories and are supported by the Protestants who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. But Catholics regard the marches as provocative.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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