Man in critical condition after Belfast Christmas Market stabbing
A man found stabbed near Belfast's Christmas Market is in a critical condition in hospital.
Police said he was taken to hospital for treatment following the incident beside the city hall.
The ambulance service was called to attend to the man at about 7.45pm on Wednesday. Police said they are working to establish where exactly the stabbing happened.
A spokesperson from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said it received a call at 7:45pm.
An NIAS statement said: "We sent a rapid response paramedic along with our A&E crew. The patient was treated at the scene and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital."
The man is understood to be in a critical condition.
Some of those who fled the scene said people began to panic when they spotted PSNI officers at the scene.
"No-one would tell us what was happening, security staff just kept saying we had to leave," one onlooker said.
Our Christmas Market is somewhere families come to embrace the festive season, but tonight's incident has shocked us all. pic.twitter.com/2MrvdyVjm9— Guy Spence (@GuySpence) December 21, 2016
Awful news coming through on what should have been a fun, enjoyable night for the many thousands in Belfast tonight https://t.co/ApMl0HUy1k— Emma LittlePengelly (@little_pengelly) December 21, 2016
"We then saw lots of police coming in to the markets and moving us all out. They wouldn't tell us what was going on so we started to panic thinking it was terrorist-related. I kept thinking about Berlin and knew we had to get out of there.
"We were so scared."
A massive security operation swung into action as police sealed off the entire market area.
Police are not ruling out that it was a sectarian motive.
One eyewitness, Lyra McKee, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I just walked round out of the side gate at City Hall and there was a crowd and a police cordon across the front of City Hall.
"The man looked in his 40s, from the little I could see of him.
"Someone told me she saw a knife sticking out of him.
"This is the last night of the Christmas market, there were children here that had to see this. It was horrible.
"I think after Berlin, people seemed a bit more panicked, because of the location obviously.
"Kids were panicking asking was it terrorist-related. For 13 and 14-year-olds asking that was heartbreaking."
Another eyewitness, Joan McKinley, said: "The man was slumped against one of the stalls and he appeared to be unconscious. We saw blood on the pavement further down from where he was and we realised it was serious."
Another witness said: "He was leaning over and was very grey and we didn't think he was drunk. There was a steward with him and three other stewards came rushing out to help."
Reacting to the news DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly tweeted: "Awful news coming through on what should have been a fun, enjoyable night for the many thousands in Belfast tonight."
Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston said: "Such violence on our streets is always abhorrent but it is doubly so at this time when people are celebrating with friends and family as we look forward to Christmas," he said.
"I urge anyone who can provide information about the incident to contact the PSNI."
Belfast councillor Guy Spence condemned the violence.
He tweeted: "Hearing there's been a stabbing at our Christmas Market in Belfast. Liaising with PSNI in City Hall, no justification for this heinous act."
The Continental Christmas market attracts stall owners from all over Europe to the grounds of city hall.
It is thought that the attack happened just after a musical display involving a group of drummers at City Hall's gates.
It was thronged with hundreds of people and fast food stalls. Police had been on guard nearby.
Inspector Duncan McBain said: "Police are working to establish where this assault has occurred and I would appeal to anyone who has any information about this to contact detectives at Musgrave police station on the non emergency number 101 quoting 1155 of 21/12."
The grounds of City Hall are transformed into a traditional festive German-style market each year and the venue attracts around 800,000 visitors to the city.
The market's annual run was due to finish on Thursday at 6pm. There are no further details at this time.