Belfast riot leaves 13 policemen injured

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The Independent Online

A riot in Belfast that injured 13 police officers was organised by republican paramilitaries, security sources said yesterday.

A riot in Belfast that injured 13 police officers was organised by republican paramilitaries, security sources said yesterday.

One officer received head and spinal injuries when he was hit with a breeze block and hammer during a "sustained and orchestrated attack" in the Catholic Short Strand area on Saturday. Security forces were also pelted with petrol bombs as sectarian violence erupted after a loyalist band parade.

Blaming nationalists for starting the trouble, Superintendent Graham Shields said: "Our officers were subjected to a vicious assault and everything was done to obstruct efforts to restore normality." A continuous supply of bottles and stones had been fed to rioters in the Clandeboye Drive area, he claimed.

"That degree of intent and ability would have taken people with good organisational skills," added Supt Shields.

Security sources have indicated that paramilitaries fuelled the tensions. A baton round was fired at a rioter suspected of holding a bomb.

Police said the disorder started when missiles were hurled across a peace line at Protestant homes in Cluan Place. But nationalists insisted their houses had endured a barrage of stones and bottles. The Short Strand area has been a focus for bitter clashes between Protestant and Catholic factions in recent months.

Trouble flared as the loyalist Apprentice Boys, who had returned from a demonstration in Londonderry, dispersed on the Albertbridge Road.

"When police responded the crowd had swollen to at least 200," said a spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Officers were blocked from entering the Clandeboye area by a sit-down protest involving women and children, he said. Cars were also used as a barricade against security forces.

Jim Rodgers, the Ulster Unionist former Lord Mayor of Belfast, said: "I condemn the disgraceful attacks on the police and challenge Sinn Fein/IRA to do likewise."

But Joe O'Donnell, a Sinn Fein Short Strand councillor, said loyalist bandsmen had started the riot by attacking residents at a festival.

Alasdair McDonnell, an SDLP Assembly member, urged both sides to meet for talks before the city's reputation was tarnished further.

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