Violence flares again in Belfast, six police hurt

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Six Northern Ireland police officers were injured as "significant disorder" erupted on the streets of Belfast Saturday, just over a week after the worst clashes there for years.

Rioting flared following a Protestant march through the city on Friday night with police using water cannon and rubber bullets to try to disperse the crowds, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said.

Police vehicles brought in to be used as barriers between groups of rival Protestants and Catholics were damaged and missiles were hurled at officers trying to restore order.

Seven people were arrested for disorderly behaviour, police said.

"Police came under attack from both sides," a police spokesman told AFP, adding that the situation returned to normal at about 0300 GMT.

The spokeswoman said the injuries to the six officers, all caused by youths throwing masonry, were not serious.

The rioting broke out in east Belfast, a predominantly Protestant sector of Belfast, following the "mini Twelfth" parade, although there are Catholic enclaves in the area.

The main Protestant marching season culminates on July 12 and marks the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when King William III, a Protestant, defeated the Catholic King James II, whom William had unseated two years earlier.

Officers were working with community leaders and advising members of the public "to avoid the area as they work to restore calm" following the latest clashes in Belfast.

Northern Ireland saw some of its worst sectarian violence in years last week, focused on a Catholic enclave in east Belfast. A photographer was shot in the leg and rioters threw petrol bombs and other missiles at police.

The 1998 "Good Friday" peace accords largely ended the cycle of sectarian bombings and shootings in the province, part of the United Kingdom, and paved the way for a devolved, power-sharing Northern Irish Assembly.

Around 3,500 people were killed in decades of unrest pitting Protestant Loyalists who want the province to remain part of the United Kingdom aaginst Catholic Republicans who favour joining the Irish Republic.

But there are still often clashes around the July Protestant marching season, when the light summer evenings are at their longest.

© 2011 AFP

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