Catholics attack Protestant parade, police in N.Ireland riot
Catholic rioters in Northern Ireland hurled petrol bombs, rocks and other missiles at a Protestant parade and their police escort Monday, seriously injuring a female officer.
Police responded by firing rubber bullets and a water cannon in a bid to subdue the demonstrators, in the latest outbreak of violence on the biggest day of the British province's marching season.
The demonstrators were attempting to block the annual march of Protestant Orangemen passing the Ardoyne shops in the north of the city, a notorious flashpoint in the Northern Irish capital.
One female police officer was rushed to hospital with "significant injuries" after what witnesses described as a vicious attack.
A reporter with local TV network UTV, Sharon O'Neill, described how a large block was dropped on the police officer's head, knocking her to ground.
"While the officer lay on the ground and her colleagues went to assist her, the rioters hurled everything and anything they could find," said the reporter.
A police spokesman said: "The officer has sustained significant injuries and had to be hospitalised."
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said a number of officers were injured, although it gave no more details.
Earlier in the day, police officers in body armour removed more than 100 demonstrators who staged a sit-down protest in the road.
The fresh outburst of violence came after rioting overnight by Catholics left 27 police injured in the province, including three with gunshot wounds, officials said. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
Gerry Kelly, a lawmaker from the republican Sinn Fein party, condemned the latest riots: "The rioting we witnessed this evening is wrong, counterproductive and should not have happened."
He also blamed dissident republicans for sabotaging locals' attempts to hold a peaceful demonstration.
"All that was achieved by this was that it undermined local residents and prevented them holding their planned protest," said Kelly.
"But it is obvious by the small numbers involved that there was no mass mobilisation here this evening."
July 12 is the biggest day in Northern Ireland's marching season and sees Protestants mark Prince William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Despite the relative calm in Northern Ireland since a peace agreement in 1998, violence frequently breaks out around July 12 as Catholics try to prevent the marches from going ahead.
Twenty-one police officers were injured last year and there have also been serious disturbances in previous years.
© 2010 AFP