UVF blamed after rioting in Belfast

A major riot that saw police come under gun attack by loyalists in Northern Ireland is being blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force, despite the paramilitary group being on ceasefire.





Political leaders appealed for calm after 500 people were involved in the disturbances in east Belfast last night that saw hand-to-hand fighting, plus the use of petrol bombs and blast bombs.



Police said there were gunshots from the republican Short Strand area, while loyalists also opened fire, but masked UVF members were blamed for starting the violence by attacking homes in the Catholic enclave.



Two men on the loyalist side of the divide suffered gunshot wounds to the leg, officers confirmed.



But two bullet marks on a police vehicle were blamed on the UVF and are being treated as an attempt to murder officers.



Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said: "We believe at this point that members of the east Belfast UVF were involved.



"It would be a line of investigation to establish whether that was a co-ordinated and organised 'organisational' position (by the UVF central leadership).



"But at this point we are satisfied that at the very least members of east Belfast UVF were involved in organising the disorder."



Sinn Fein said scores of masked men in camouflage clothing and wearing surgical gloves were at the centre of co-ordinated attacks on the republican Short Strand area that ignited a five-hour riot.



Homes were damaged and there were a number of injuries, with witnesses claiming it was lucky no one was killed.



Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the riot, 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."



He added: "We need to ensure that tensions are not raised over the coming weeks, and I will do everything I can to assist community leaders in their efforts to bring calm to the streets."



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



Mr McCrum said: "It started when a group of young men after nine o'clock last night made their way into the area of the Short Strand and did unquestionably attack homes in that community.



"That precipitated a response from the community in the Short Strand and then we were left with two communities who then for the next four hours were seeking to involve themselves in conflict across what was, and continues to be, a very challenging interface."



At the height of the disturbances, republicans fired six shots, while loyalists fired five shots. Loyalists were blamed for opening fire on a police Land Rover, leaving strike marks on the vehicle.



The police said they would step up security in the area in the nights to come, but it is being noted that the incident raises the temperature ahead of the most volatile period of the loyalist marching season.



Asked about the shots fired by republicans, Mr McCrum said there was no indication of Provisional IRA involvement.



"There is nothing to suggest at this point that those shots were fired by Provisional members," he said.



He paid tribute to the police, who he said were in the front line trying to protect communities against crowds that were "hell-bent on disorder". Police fired a number of baton rounds.



In a further violent incident, police came under bomb attack from dissident republicans in west Belfast.



As officers were responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle in the Andersonstown Road area in the early hours of this morning, a bomb was hurled at their car.



Northern Ireland Policing Board chairman Brian Rea condemned the bombing, as well as the east Belfast riot.



He said the officers in west Belfast had a lucky escape: "It is extremely fortunate that officers were not injured in this attack but this device had the potential to kill which was the obvious intent."



Justice Minister David Ford said the violence was a disgrace and showed Northern Ireland in a negative light, following two days of positive publicity around the US Open win by Co Down golfer Rory McIlroy.



"Northern Ireland has occupied the headlines for our sporting excellence but that positive image, bringing with it the prospects of continuing to improve our reputation internationally, is today replaced with one of rioting," he said.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home