Pregnant women assaulted in racist attacks in Belfast

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The Independent Online

Two pregnant women, one of whom is due to give birth on Christmas Day, were among the latest victims of race hatred in Belfast when they were attacked at the weekend in the south of the city.

Two pregnant women, one of whom is due to give birth on Christmas Day, were among the latest victims of race hatred in Belfast when they were attacked at the weekend in the south of the city.

A Chinese man also had his nose broken when he was smashed in the face with a brick in an attack which may have been carried out by loyalist paramilitary elements.

The injured were seen by doctors and the unborn babies were not thought to be in danger. Three families, two Chinese and the other of African descent, left their homes.

There has been a rise in racial attacks in Northern Ireland during 2003, with problems for blacks and Chinese, mainly in Co Armagh and south Belfast. South Belfast has strong loyalist pockets and many adjoin areas where the growing immigrant population tends to live. In the attacks on Saturday night a gang broke into a house, assaulted two pregnant Chinese women and broke the man's nose. Windows were later broken in two other houses in the area.

Police said the occupants of the houses, some with young children, had left their homes for their own safety.

Inspector Keith Gilchrist, crime prevention officer for south Belfast, said the woman due to give birth at Christmas had been taken to hospital suffering from shock. He said: "She is very heavily pregnant and was was taken in for observation but we believe everything is OK with the baby at the moment. It's absolutely horrific that people have been put out of their homes at this time of year. We're having to seek temporary accommodation."

Carmel Hanna, the SDLP Assembly member for south Belfast, who is a member of the Chinese Welfare Association, said she that was sickened by the attacks.

She said: "Unfortunately, it's not the first - there have been several in the past on African and Chinese families living in this area. We have some very sick people in our society - some very sectarian and some very racist people."

Nathalie Caleyron of the Multicultural Resource Centre in Belfast said the attacks were deeply disturbing, adding: "It must be awful for the people who were attacked, especially for the pregnant women."

Some loyalists have sympathies with far-right groups based in England, and have circulated racist leaflets in south Belfast and elsewhere. Many of the assaults have taken place in hardline Protestant areas, which tend to be tough and suspicious of any outsiders.

In an incident in July a pipe bomb of a type used by loyalists was planted beside an oil tank at a house occupied by an African couple and their nine-week-old twins.

Alex Maskey, the former Sinn Fein lord mayor of Belfast, said: "There is a clear onus on the political leadership of Unionism to make it very clear that they do not support racist attacks and that they support the right of ethnic minorities to live here in peace.

"There is also a real need for proper support networks to be put in place to help families who fall victim to this sort of racist violence in the future."

¿ A man is expected to appear in court in Belfast today in connection with an incident in which a car crashed into a group of children in the Falls Road district on Friday. Christopher Shaw, 11, was killed instantly. His brother Darren, 13, and Emma Lynch, eight, were critically injured. The man is expected to face charges of causing death and grievous injury by dangerous driving.

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