Belfast rattled by violent clashes

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The Independent Online

One police officer was said to be in danger of losing an eye as police and civilian casualties were reported when disturbances broke out across the city. The scale of the rioting was said to be among the most widespread outbreaks in recent years, with people in a number of districts reported hearing automatic gunfire.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde condemned the Orange Order after it called for widespread protests when the Northern Ireland Parades Commission banned a parade from a section of the nationalist Springfield Road, close to the Falls Road.

A bus and other vehicles were set on fire, while police fired plastic bullets and used water-cannon. In one incident, a man was injured by a blast bomb which security sources said detonated as it was being thrown. In north Belfast, children were said to be shocked after a bus was attacked with stones and bottles. A window of the vehicle was smashed and some people on board were screaming in terror.

The authorities had been apprehensive that trouble might break out at the parade, which had been postponed for some weeks after being re-routed. While republicans have been comparatively quiet all summer, loyalists have killed four, possibly five, people in shootings. Four of these were killed by the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force in a feud with another loyalist group.

UVF members were involved in serious riots last week not far from the Springfield Road, attacking police who had moved in to arrest UVF suspects. The group, which originally supported the peace process, is now, in the words of a security source, "off the reservation" and involved in many acts of violence.

Loyalists and nationalists clashed briefly at a heavily fortified Protestant-Catholic peaceline on the Springfield Road, but most of last night's clashes were between loyalists and police officers.Roads in the city centre were also blocked for a time while loyalists staged protests in east and south Belfast.