Police under fire from loyalists in Belfast riots

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The Independent Online

Police came under fire as loyalist mobs went on the rampage in north Belfast last night.

Police came under fire as loyalist mobs went on the rampage in north Belfast last night.

A police spokesman said there were five separate shooting incidents in the flashpoint Limestone Road area last night.

Loyalist rioters hurled 23 pipe and blast bombs and more than 30 petrol bombs at security forces, while a number of unexploded devices were taken away for forensic examination.

The spokesman said riot squad officers fired 15 plastic baton rounds. There were no reports of any injuries.

He confirmed that police had also been attacked with a number of petrol bombs on the junction of Duncairn Gardens and North Queen Street.

The trouble flared after police were accused of brutality by community leaders in the area. Riot squad officers fired plastic baton rounds as riots broke out for the third consecutive night.

A police spokesman said the trouble began at 8pm when a crowd of about 100 people attacked police with at least five pipe-bombs and other missiles in Robina Street.

Police and Army Land Rovers moved into the area in a attempt to prevent the trouble spreading into a nearby nationalist area.

A large mob attacked the security forces in the Protestant Tiger's Bay area while a car was hijacked and set on fire in Limestone Road. Blast bombs and petrol bombs rained down on police vehicleslined across the street.

Danny Lavery, a Sinn Fein councillor, appealed for nationalists to be calm, adding that the problems of the area would only be sorted out through dialogue between the warring factions.

"Until Unionist politicians get off their backsides and talk to their constituents and try to put a stop to it, this will continue," he added.

The Northern Ireland Assembly member for north Belfast, Billy Hutchinson, of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party, said he believed last night's trouble was sparked by police heavy-handedness in breaking up violence the previous night. "If the police are going to beat innocent women and children and pensioners then this is the result," he said.

"That doesn't justify what is happening but people's frustrations are going to be taken out in a predictable way."

Mr Hutchinson said he would welcome dialogue but said problems between the people of the area and the police will have to be sorted out first.

Eddie McClean, a loyalist community worker, said loyalist dissidents had entered the Tiger's Bay area to stoke up the trouble. He said: "A lot of outsiders and dissidents have come into the area just for the sake of rioting," he said. "There are a lot of people with grudges against the police force."

Meanwhile there were reports that the violence had spread to the nearby North Queen Street area. A group of about 30 loyalists attacked the security forces with fireworks.

Northern Ireland Office minister Des Browne condemned the violence in north Belfast.

He said: "Those who riot, those who use bombs and the gun are embarked on a self destructive course."

"They have absolutely nothing to offer the community. north Belfast has many problems, none of them is closer to being solved by the activities of those who seek to destroy rather than to build."