New N.Ireland unrest flares despite leaders' condemnation

14th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rioters in Northern Ireland hurled petrol bombs at police and erected burning barricades at a Belfast flashpoint, as unrest that has left scores of police officers injured entered a third day.

Despite a fierce condemnation of the recent disturbances from the province's leaders just hours earlier, rioters took to the streets again late Tuesday.

Youths in Ardoyne, a mainly Catholic area of north Belfast, hurled petrol bombs and a pipe bomb at police officers and put up barricades which were set on fire, police said.

Police deployed a water cannon in response. No new injuries were reported late Tuesday.

It followed rioting by nationalist youths over the previous two nights, centred around Ardoyne, which has left 82 police officers injured.

The disturbances come at the height of Northern Ireland's marching season, a traditional flashpoint in the troubled province's history.

Unrest often flares as Protestant marchers -- in favour of continued British rule of the province -- pass through areas mainly populated by Catholics, who are generally opposed to rule from London.

In the most violent riots of the past few days on Monday, dissident republicans threw petrol bombs and concrete slabs at Protestant Orangemen and their police escort as they marched through Ardoyne.

The province's First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness both criticised the violence Tuesday, saying it was out of keeping with modern-day Northern Ireland.

"I am disgusted at the outright thuggery and vandalism that has taken place over the course of the last 48 hours," said Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionists, Northern Ireland's largest Protestant party.

"There is no excuse and no place for violence in civilised society... (we) will continue, to work for a resolution of the difficulties around parading.

"We must keep our entire focus on defeating those who would seek through violence and destruction to drag us back."

McGuinness, of the Catholic, republican Sinn Fein party, said: "Our experience demonstrates that the way to deal with any disputes or contention is through dialogue and agreement."

The leaders' response came after Northern Ireland police's number two Alistair Finlay criticised their grip on events and urged them to speak out against the violence, in a rare challenge.

Northern Ireland police chief Matt Baggott described Monday's violence as "recreational rioting with a sinister edge", as he released footage of riot officers being attacked with iron bars and wooden posts.

Police responded with rubber bullets and water cannon in a bid to subdue the demonstrators. Earlier the same day, police in body armour had removed more than 100 people who staged a sit-down protest in the road.

Monday's victims included a female officer who had a breeze block hurled on her head. She was pelted with missiles as emergency services tended to her.

She and another officer are in hospital but their injuries were not life-threatening.

Three officers sustained gunshot wounds in Sunday's rioting.

Monday was July 12, which is the climax of the marching calendar 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 the 1998 peace accords, violence frequently breaks out around July 12 as Catholics try to prevent the marches from going ahead.

Local Sinn Fein lawmaker Gerry Kelly blamed the disorder on dissident republicans bent on wrecking Northern Ireland's peace process, saying it would otherwise have been a peaceful protest.

© 2010 AFP

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