Wednesday, July 13, 2011

22 cops hurt in bid to control Belfast riots

BELFAST: Angry rioters hijacked a bus and drove it at police during a fresh bout of sectarian violence that has left 22 police officers injured in Northern Ireland.

Police under attack during riots in Belfast on Monday night. More than 40 petrol bombs were thrown at officers. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Crowds of up to 200 Irish Nationalists fired petrol bombs, flung stones and torched cars in Belfast on Monday night in protest against huge annual marches by pro-British Protestants planned yesterday.

Police fired 51 plastic bullets and used water cannon to control the crowds, a police spokesman said. More than 40 petrol bombs were thrown at police.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones praised his officers for their 'skill and professionalism' in dealing with the violence, BBC news reported.

'Unfortunately 22 officers sustained injuries while delivering this protective service,' he said. 'We would appeal for everyone to do everything they can to help ensure all areas are calm and peaceful over the next 48 hours. Violence does not need to be inevitable.'

On the mostly Catholic Falls Road, in the west of the city, a driver was dragged from his bus and the passengers ordered off. It was then driven at police lines but crashed a short distance away.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said one firefighter was slightly injured by youths throwing stones in Londonderry. It was dealing with around one call every 75 seconds across Northern Ireland. By 8am Singapore time yesterday it had received 180 fire calls, a 65 per cent increase on the previous year, BBC news reported.

Tens of thousands of Protestants were due to take part in marches yesterday to mark the 1690 victory of King William of Orange over Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne, which helped ensure Protestant supremacy in Ireland.

Many Catholics regard the marches as provocative, and violent protests often erupt as they pass Catholic suburbs.

Three decades of fighting between mostly Protestant loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and Irish nationalists, mainly Catholics, who want it to be part of a united Ireland tore the province apart until a 1998 peace agreement paved the way for a power-sharing government of loyalists and nationalists. Violence has subsided over the years, but small dissident armed groups are still active in the province.

The clashes erupted overnight as Protestant groups lit hundreds of bonfires across the province to mark the July 12 holiday.

Police said no officers were seriously injured in the overnight clashes.

In North Belfast, a bomb alert, which eventually proved to be a hoax, forced the evacuation of a number of homes for several hours.