'Thuggery' slammed as N. Ireland riots flare

13th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Northern Ireland's leaders on Tuesday condemned rioting by Catholics opposed to Protestant marches in Belfast, which left 82 police officers injured.

Dissident republicans threw petrol bombs, concrete slabs and bottles at Protestant Orangemen and their police escort marching through Ardoyne, a mainly Catholic area of north Belfast, on Monday.

It was the second straight night of rioting in the capital.

The province's First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness both criticised the violence, 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 the violence as "recreational rioting with a sinister edge", as he released footage of riot officers being attacked Monday with iron bars and wooden posts.

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

A total of 82 officers have now been injured in the two nights of rioting.

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.

Baggott called for a debate on how to handle disputes over the annual Protestant marching season, which remains a flashpoint despite the peace process in the province.

July 12 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.

Baggott said the cost of policing the marches and dealing with the resulting violence was equivalent to the price of a new hospital ward or primary school.

Finlay added: "Northern Ireland cannot afford to have violent images beamed across the world every summer -- images which are totally unrepresentative of the vast majority of people who have embraced a peaceful and vibrant future".

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.

Unrest also flared in other parts of Northern Ireland on Monday. Rioters tried unsuccessfully to set a Dublin-Belfast train alight at Lurgan, southwest of Belfast.

In Londonderry in the northwest, a masked gunman fired five shots in the direction of security services but no-one was hurt.

© 2010 AFP

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