Estate agent warned in Belfast race row

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The Independent Online

After a wave of racial attacks in south Belfast, a local estate agent has said he has been warned not to let property to black or Chinese families.

William Faulkner, whose office has been damaged in a petrol-bomb attack, said he had been visited by people who had "just walked in and out again" to deliver the warning.

In the latest attack, earlier this week, a Pakistani woman who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant escaped injury but was badly shocked when a 6ft plank was rammed through the front window of a house she had just moved into. It showered glass over an area where she had been eating 20 minutes earlier. Police called it "a hate crime," saying they have stepped up patrols in the area.

Loyalist elements, some of who have sympathies with far-right British groups, are the primary suspects. The attacks in the Donegal Road/Village area have been going on for months, showing an organised campaign is under way.

Mr Faulkner said of those who warned him: "I do not think they were loyalists, but they were more of the thug nature." But Councillor Geraldine Rice of the moderate Alliance party said it was no secret that one group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, was involved in extortion rackets focusing on Chinese-owned businesses, and another, the Ulster Defence Association has been infiltrated by far-right groups including Combat 18.-

But Assembly member David Ervine, whose Progressive Unionist party is linked to the UVF, said the attacks were the work of "scumbags".

Last month two pregnant Chinese women, one of whom was due to give birth on Christmas Day, were attacked in the district, when a gang who broke into their home and smashed a man's nose with a brick. The woman has since given birth to a healthy baby boy.

Yin Mei Gao, the Chinese woman who gave birth at Christmas, was discharged from hospital earlier this week. She and her husband fled from their home and have been staying in a south Belfast hotel

The attacks have been widely condemned. Police Inspector Darrin Jones said of the latest incident: "There doesn't seem to be any respect for people's culture, colour and race. We refer to it as hate crime and that's basically what it is." .

New legislation strengthening Northern Ireland's race laws is being considered. One proposal is for sentences of 30 years for "a murder racially or religiously aggravated or aggravated by sexual orientation".