'Shots fired' during Belfast violence

Published Saturday, 05 January 2013
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Police are investigating reports that a number of shots have been fired in east Belfast, as rioting which broke out in the wake of a city centre flag protest on Saturday afternoon continued into the night.

'Shots fired' during Belfast violence
Burning barricades on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast on Saturday evening (© Presseye)

On Saturday night, police said riot officers continued to deal with disorder in the Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road, Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue areas on the third consecutive day of violence in the east of the city.

A number of cars and barricades have been set on fire, while petrol bombs fireworks and bricks have been thrown at police.

Water cannon has been deployed against loyalist rioters and three AEP rounds have been fired by officers during the trouble.

"Police came under sustained attack from crowds of more than 100 people throwing petrol bombs, fireworks, bricks and other masonry," a PSNI spokesman said on Saturday night.

"One officer has been injured but didn't require hospital treatment."

"A number of arrests have been made."

There were also reports of public disorder in the Ballymena area. Police said Larne Road Link was closed from Pennybridge Roundabout to the Bog Road on Saturday night.

Earlier a man, aged 38, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, following reports of gunfire aimed at police lines on the Newtownards Road.

It is understood the PSNI helicopter was used to prompt the arrest.

Two other men were also detained during the afternoon violence.

One was charged with a number of public order offences and appeared before a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates' Court on Saturday night.

It came after police said they were attacked from a 100-strong loyalist crowd, who hurled bricks and fireworks at officers on Saturday afternoon. Water cannon was also used against rioters.

The trouble in Belfast began when hundreds of loyalist demonstrators returning from City Hall came under attack from missiles which were thrown from the nearby nationalist Short Strand area.

Earlier, up to 1,000 loyalists took part in a protest march in Belfast city centre forcing road closures and disrupting traffic and trade in the area.

The city centre protest passed off without incident. It was the latest in a series of demonstrations which have been staged throughout Northern Ireland after Belfast councillors voted to only fly the Union Flag from City Hall on designated days.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long has repeated her call for protests to end, describing reports that shots had been fired as "deeply disturbing."

The Alliance politician said it was further proof the ongoing protests were becoming inextricably linked with violence.

"This latest rioting, and chilling reports of shots being fired, mark a new low and must be unequivocally condemned," she said.

"Violence has become more orchestrated. Those who claim leadership of the protests need to bring them to an end so we can discuss any grievances they feel they have in a democratic and peaceful manner," she added.

East Belfast Councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said: "It is important the PSNI act to ensure that attacks on isolated catholic communities like the Short Strand masked under the guise of flag protests are brought to an immediate end.

"There has been some good work done by the PSNI in keeping unionist rioters away from this community but significant mistakes have been made in facilitating illegal protests and marches in East Belfast," the former Sinn Féin Lord Mayor added.

SDLP policing spokesperson Conall McDevitt said: "Those organising these protests on social media must bear full responsibility for the violence that has ensued and must be fully held to account for violence that is continuing to take place."

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland told UTV that the PSNI was being stretched to the limit by the geographical spread of the often sporadic violence - and also the "very severe" threat from dissident republicans.

Terry Spence said he believed the UVF orchestrated violence in the east of the city.

He added that people should now realise the protests have been hijacked by paramilitaries - and should stay away from them.

Mr Spence said the police force was under resourced and needed additional man power.

On Friday night, nine officers were injured in street violence in the Greater Belfast area. The previous night, 10 officers also sustained injuries.

First Minister Peter Robinson has strongly condemned the rioting.

"The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified," the DUP leader said.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
129 Comments
michael in belfast wrote (712 days ago):
more anti-democracy thugs in court today. if we are to have any faith in our country or judicial system, then sentences for facebook rioters must be stiff
Peter in Belfast wrote (712 days ago):
The CBI have confirmed some investors have pulled out of preliminary talks for setting up business in Northern Ireland. That's lost jobs!! Are you happy you silly silly people protesting against a stupid piece of cloth?
James in Belfast wrote (712 days ago):
GettyB your post is outstanding. So refreshing to read a well thought out and written post that identifies the problem at hand here. This country is being held back not by our different beliefs, but by the politicians ability to twist them for their own gains. We deserve more.
Peter in Belfast wrote (712 days ago):
Hard to have respect for these unionist spokespeople on the tv defending the riots when they keep making basic errors. The latest was "we are proud to be in Great Britain and we will stay in Great Britain". Northern Ireland is not, and never has been, a part of Great Britain. Look at your passports. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom which consists of "Great Britain and" ...wait for it...(clears throat)... "Northern Ireland".
michael in belfast wrote (713 days ago):
as now plays itself out its good to see no bail for thugs. last year in england, social network rioters were given fixed term sentences of at least 4 years. was a huge deterrent and our courts need to step up
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