Police blame `outsiders' as riots erupt in Belfast and Londonderry

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MASKED rioters armed with petrol bombs clashed with police in Londonderry last night, after a day of Apprentice Boys marches that brought violence to both that city and Belfast.

A gang of about 100 youths stoned police at Castle Gate, between Londonderry city centre and the Catholic Bogside area, while several masked figures hurled petrol bombs, one of which hit a police Land Rover. Police fired six plastic bullets, hitting several members of the crowd.

Earlier, rioting in Belfast left 12 police and 10 civilians injured. The disturbance was orchestrated by people from outside the district, a senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officer said. Deputy Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan said that officers who attempted to move people blocking the route of the Loyalist Apprentice Boys marchers on the Ormeau Road in Belfast met "fierce physical resistance".

That clash came during one of two Nationalist demonstrations against Loyalist parades. "Our thrust in both areas was exactly the same," Mr Flanagan said.

In Londonderry the Apprentice Boys' march passed off with little trouble, but violence later flared between the Apprentice Boys and youths from the Bogside area. Stones and bottles were thrown by both factions and the police called in reinforcements wearing riot-control gea.

Belfast police said some of the Ormeau Road crowd appeared to have been drinking. Ugly clashes erupted when police in riot gear tried to move them and there was a brief bout of fighting in the middle of the road as officers struggled to drag protesters into the streets alongside the parade route. Plastic bullets were fired and at least one man was hit. He was taken to hospital with a serious face wound.

The Londonderry march had been allowed to take place only after protracted negotiations between the Apprentice Boys and representatives of the Bogside residents, according to assistant Chief Constable Freddie Hall. The Bogside residents had stayed on the city walls all Friday night in an unsuccessful bid to block the parade.