Police hurt as riots flare in N.Ireland over marches

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Rioting by Catholics opposed to a Protestant march in Belfast left 28 new police casualties, officials said, while pressure mounted on the province's political leaders.

The new unrest late Monday prompted a top police officer to issue a rare challenge to Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness to condemn publicly the events.

"I did not have a call from either of them in the run-up to this event and where are they today jointly speaking out against what has happened?" Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay told BBC radio.

His comments came after dissident republicans threw petrol bombs, concrete slabs and bottles at Protestant Orangemen and their police escort marching through the Ardoyne area in the north of the city late Monday.

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

Fifty-five officers have been injured in 48 hours of rioting. The 28 new victims included a female officer who was hit with a breeze block, police said.

She and another officer are still in hospital but none of the injuries were life-threatening, they added.

The disturbances were the climax of two days of unrest in the British province.

Finlay, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said his officers "came under sustained attack in the Ardoyne area from bricks, bottles and petrol bombs."

A local lawmaker blamed dissident republicans determined to wreck Northern Ireland's peace process for provoking the riot, which he said would otherwise have been a peaceful protest by people in the area.

"All that was achieved by this was that it undermined local residents and prevented them holding their planned protest," said Gerry Kelly, a Belfast lawmaker from the republican Sinn Fein party.

"But it is obvious by the small numbers involved that there was no mass mobilisation."

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.

The attack on the parade came after rioting late Sunday and early Monday that left 27 police injured in the province, including three with gunshot wounds, officials said. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

© 2010 AFP

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