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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own