Surge in Belfast violence blamed on resurgent UVF


Police in Northern Ireland have blamed the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for an escalation in loyalist street violence following a lull over Christmas.

Three nights of localised but sustained rioting have taken place in inner east Belfast, with reports of a gunman firing shots at officers and the use of dozens of petrol bombs, as well as bricks and bottles.

Unionist politicians are to meet this week in the hope of shaping a response that might bring the disruption to a halt, but all pleas to end the unrest have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Tonight a man in his 30s was being questioned by police on suspicion of attempted murder after shots were fired on Saturday night.

More than a dozen other people appeared at special court sittings yesterday, charged with offences including riotous behaviour. Some were taken into custody. Police said individuals involved in the riots on Saturday night, which broke out after up to 1,000 loyalists demonstrated at Belfast City Hall, also aimed laser beams at officers and a police helicopter.

The riots have been accompanied by a new wave of non-violent but disruptive demonstrations in and around the city in protest against limitations on the display of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall.

Churchmen and community leaders are involved in talks with loyalists in an attempt to defuse a dispute that has lasted more than a month and resulted in injuries to more than 60 police officers.

Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, said those involved were playing into the hands of republican dissidents. "The violence and destruction visited on the police is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified," he said.

The disruption has caused major damage to community relations, economic activity and the image of a region that has been seeking to attract investment and tourism, and the suggestion of UVF involvement will be a further cause for alarm.

Terry Spence, the chairman of the Police Federation, described the appearance of gunfire as a very sinister development that was orchestrated by the UVF. "Paramilitaries have hijacked this flags protest issue and they have turned now their guns on the police," he said. "They are exploiting this."

Up to now, the protesters have had little coherent leadership. Blaming police for clashes, prominent activist Jamie Bryson said on his Facebook page: "The fact that a large number of these officers are now Roman Catholics provides some explanation as to their bloodlust."

But Mr Spence said: "I totally reject his comments. They are clearly sectarian and beneath contempt. Our officers are holding the line between anarchy and peace on our streets."

Glyn Roberts, of Northern Ireland's independent traders' association, said: "I would appeal to the people organising these riots to stop and consider the damage they are doing, not just to their own local community and their own local traders but to the reputation of Northern Ireland throughout the world.

"We've international TV crews here covering this, beaming those pictures of riots across the world. That's doing immense damage to Northern Ireland's reputation at a time where we're desperate to get foreign, direct investment."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas