Sinn Fein leader 'clubbed by police'

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The Independent Online
Martin McGuinness, the senior Sinn Fein spokesman, last night claimed he was hit on the head by a member of the security forces during a tense stand-off between nationalist protesters and police and army in the largely Catholic village of Bellaghy.

Mr McGuinness, elected MP in May for Mid-Ulster, which includes the village, was standing with residents protesting at the 1,200-strong loyalist band march in the village, the scene of rioting for two successive nights.

He said he was hit on the back of the head with a baton and showed nearby reporters blood on his hair and hand. He said: "I was hit on the head with a baton - I don't know if it was RUC or Army." John Kelly, a Sinn Fein councillor who witnessed the event, said he saw a policeman strike the blow.

The incident occurred as rioters took to the streets of Belfast and other towns, petrol bombing security forces and hijacking and burning vehicles. By yesterday evening the number of injuries topped100 - 57 civilians and 46 police. Among the injured, six of whom were in a serious condition, were a 14-year-old Catholic boy who was in a coma after being hit on the head during disturbances in west Belfast, and a 14-year-old Protestant boy who was struck on the shoulder by a stray bullet near the peaceline when gunmen opened fire on police.

The home of John Adams, 70, a former Ulster Unionist member of Londonderry City Council, was petrol bombed earlier in the day - half an hour before he died in hospital.

A Post Office van was seized and set on fire in Dunmurry on the outskirts of south Belfast and a bus torched in the republican Whiterock area of Belfast. Armed and masked men were leading rioters in Downpatrick, Co Down.

The nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown saw fresh trouble when crowds seized and burned cars. Crowds were also reported to be gathering in Armagh, the scene of serious rioting on Sunday night.

Earlier, the RUC revealed that three officers had narrowly escaped death when they were hit when gunmen opened fire on a joint army-police patrol in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. All escaped with minor injuries. One was grazed on the head when a bullet entered and exited the riot helmet he was wearing. Another was saved by his flak jacket and the third was hit on his radio microphone.

The alleged incident involving Mr McGuinness provoked stone-throwing and bottle-throwing by incensed nationalists in the Co Londonderry village during a service by Orangemen at their repaired Orange hall. The Orangemen later joined a loyalist parade containing up to 35 bands which lasted for two hours.

The march was restricted from going the full length of the village by a police roadblock after senior officers said they had reached an agreement with march organisers; later, however, Robert Overend, a senior local Orangeman, angrily denied they had agreed to restrict the parade. "We are very, very angry we cannot march through the entire village. We are considering legal action," he said. Several hundred protesters, kept 75 metres from the loyalist parade, held placards and shouted abuse at the army and police who stood in full riot gear.

Mr McGuinness urged those present and in all nationalist communities to stay calm and to demonstrate peacefully.

He told the crowd: "I am as angry as you, but I'm asking each and every one to be calm and dignified and peaceful."

Later a senior police source cast doubt on Mr McGuinness's claims that he had been hit by a baton and suggested the MP may have suffered a blow from a placard or missile thrown by some protesters over police and army lines. But he stressed he did not have all the information about the incident.