18 held after loyalist violence in Belfast

 

Eighteen people have been arrested after nine police officers were injured during the latest outburst of loyalist violence in Northern Ireland.

More than 30 petrol bombs, along with fireworks, ball bearings and masonry, were hurled at police officers in a sustained attack on officers in east Belfast last night. Up to 300 people were involved in the disturbances.

None of the police injuries are life threatening, however one female officer required medical treatment at the scene.

Three attempted vehicle hijackings were made in the Beersbridge Road area. A business premises on the O'Neill Road was also broken into by several masked men, who damaged the property and stole a sum of money.

The PSNI said they will be seeking further arrests in the coming days in relation to the disorder and have appealed for witnesses.

Conall McDevitt, SDLP policing spokesman, said those organising the demonstrations on social media must be held fully responsible for the resultant violence.

"I appeal for calm today and over the weekend and ask people taking part in protests to reflect upon the violence and ask themselves if they want to be associated with that violence and if that is the best way that they feel they can have their voice heard," he added.

"Nobody is in doubt that some paramilitaries are exploiting these illegal protests to destabilise the situation and ultimately bring violence back on to our streets."

Last night, Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said violence against the police was a "disgrace" and those behind days of unrest were playing into the hands of dissident republicans.

On Thursday 10 police officers were injured in east Belfast during a demonstration against the decision to reduce the number of days the Union Flag is flown from Belfast city hall.

Mr Robinson said: "The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified.

"Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims."

He said some demonstrators were employing language borrowed from the republican handbook to demonise police and undermine the DUP through a call for direct rule from London.

"All right-thinking unionists will want to channel their energies into political activity and to support the cause of finding political solutions to the problems that we face," Mr Robinson said.

"In Northern Ireland the ballot box has primacy and is the only vehicle for choosing the people's representatives."

Police in east Belfast were dealing with serious public disorder in the Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue areas last night.

PA

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