Photographer shot in second night of Belfast violence

22nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

A photographer was shot in the leg and police were pelted with petrol bombs in a second night of sectarian violence in Belfast, in some of the worst clashes in Northern Ireland for years.

Police used water cannon as up to 400 people gathered in the Protestant east Belfast on Tuesday evening, near a Catholic area which was a notorious flashpoint during three decades of civil strife which started in the late 1960s.

Several gunshots were fired just before midnight, police and witnesses said, and a photographer working for Britain's Press Association news agency was shot in his lower right leg. He was taken to hospital but was in a stable condition.

Police blamed the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for starting the riots.

The paramilitary group wants Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain, unlike the republican Catholics who want it to join with the Republic of Ireland.

"The UVF in East Belfast started this -- there was no sense of anyone trying to finish that (to calm the situation)," Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay told reporters.

"Their hands are upon this, whether by direction, by omission or commission."

Like most paramilitary groups, the UVF decommissioned its weapons and declared a ceasefire following the 1998 peace accords which largely ended the bombings and shootings in the British-ruled province.

But it was blamed for a murder last year when a Protestant man was shot dead in front of shoppers in an apparent execution-style killing.

An AFP photographer covering the riots Tuesday saw a hand holding a gun emerge over a brick wall and then heard about four or five shots ring out.

The photographer shouted a warning to his colleagues but when he looked he saw that the Press Association photographer had been hit.

The shots appeared to come at random from the Catholic enclave of Short Strand, the AFP photographer said, although Finlay refused to confirm this. The area backs onto Lower Newtownards Road, where the crowds gathered.

It was the second night of rioting after violence broke out Monday, which local officials said was sparked by attacks on homes in Short Strand. That night, two people were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.

Government insiders said the re-emergence of guns in Belfast was "worrying".

There are often clashes at this time of year as Northern Ireland heads into its marching season next month, but Finlay said Tuesday that Monday's first night of rioting had been "the worst violence we have seen in that area for some considerable time".

North Belfast was hit in July last year by several nights of riots sparked by Protestant marches, often through Catholic areas, to mark William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In Tuesday's riots, masked youths pelted each other with stones and fireworks, and threw missiles at police lines. Police vans were also attacked.

Officers discharged 66 baton rounds -- a form of non-lethal projectiles used to disperse rioters -- but made only one arrest; a 20-year-old woman suspected of possessing an offensive weapon and assaulting police.

First Minister Peter Robinson, from the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), condemned the disturbances, as did his deputy Martin McGuinness, from the Catholic Sinn Fein party. The two parties share power in a devolved government.

"At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets," Robinson said.

McGuinness said: "A small minority of individuals are clearly determined to destabilise our communities. They will not be allowed to drag us back to the past. I call on all those involved to take a step back and to remain calm."

© 2011 AFP

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