Tuesday 21 November 2017

Press photographer hurt in second night of Belfast rioting

A policeman stands burning amid debris and police vehicles in east Belfast on June 21. A number of people were injured in sectarian clashes which broke out in the Short Strand area of the city. Photo: Getty Images
A policeman stands burning amid debris and police vehicles in east Belfast on June 21. A number of people were injured in sectarian clashes which broke out in the Short Strand area of the city. Photo: Getty Images
Rioters in East Belfast pelt an armoured police van with missiles as rioting flared a second time last night

A press photographer was injured in a shooting as rioting erupted for a second night in the North. Three shots were fired during the disturbances around the Short Strand area of east Belfast, which has seen its most serious rioting for several years.

The Press Association photographer, who was covering the violence, suffered an injury to the leg and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he was said to be in a stable condition.

A police spokeswoman said officers were dealing with "serious disorder" in the Lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast.

She confirmed water cannon had been used and advised the media to stay away from the area for their own safety.

On Monday night, two people were shot in the legs during an intense bout of rioting.

It followed loyalist attacks on houses in the Catholic Short Strand area, which police blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Police officers faced fresh attacks last night as several hundred people gathered near interfaces close to the Newtonards Road.

A heavy security presence tried to quell serious unrest as bricks and bottles were thrown between nationalists and loyalists.

Masked youths pelted each other with stones and fireworks, while police lines came under fire from missiles.

Police said petrol bombs were also used, and officers discharged several baton rounds.

Officers have been talking to community representatives to try to calm tensions, and motorists have been advised to avoid the area, where roads have been closed.

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have condemned the riots, as well as a separate bomb attack aimed at police in west Belfast.

Mr Robinson said: "At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets."

He added: "We have given clear commitments to continue to deliver progress for all within the community including in those areas most at need. This type of behaviour damages the local economy and unfairly mars the reputation of the community."

Mr McGuinness said: "A small minority of individuals are clearly determined to destabilise our communities. They will not be allowed to drag us back to the past.

"I call on all those involved to take a step back and to remain calm. I support the efforts of community leaders on all sides who have been working on the ground to restore calm in east Belfast."

The sudden upsurge in violence is being described as the worst the city has seen in years and loyalist community workers blamed simmering tensions at the notorious sectarian interface.

But other observers blamed rivalries inside the UVF, fuelled by anger at restrictions placed on contentious parades, plus the efforts of police to probe crimes from the Troubles as part of an ongoing review of cases by the Historical Enquiries Team.

The UVF is one of the biggest loyalist groups and despite having observed a ceasefire and having decommissioned its weapons, it was blamed for a murder last year.

A paramilitary watchdog found that the UVF's leadership sanctioned what was branded the "public execution" of loyalist Bobby Moffett who was shot dead in front of shoppers on Belfast's Shankill Road.

But the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) stopped short of recommending government sanction of the UVF.

The recent appearance of UVF murals in east Belfast depicting masked and armed men was seen as a bid by the group to stamp its mark.

The location of the riot is an inner city area, not far from the centre of Belfast, and has been a long-standing flashpoint.

The Short Strand is a small Catholic community in the predominantly Protestant east of the city.

Local representatives who witnessed Monday night's disturbances gave conflicting accounts of what happened, but the police said the episode was initiated by the UVF.

Press Association

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