Police avert further Belfast clashes

Around 200 rioters faced off near the Catholic enclave in mainly Protestant east Belfast.

Belfast: Armed police on Thursday prevented a repeat of serious clashes on the streets of Belfast after local officials met to try and bring an end to some of Northern Ireland`s worst sectarian violence in years.

Around 200 rioters faced off near the Catholic enclave in mainly Protestant east Belfast which has been the focal point of unrest over the last three days, but police averted any serious disorder, a report said.

On Tuesday night, a photographer was shot in the leg and rioters threw petrol bombs and other missiles at police, who responded by firing water cannons.

Several gunshots were fired in Tuesday`s violence, police and witnesses said, and a photographer working for Britain`s Press Association news agency was hit in his lower right leg. He was taken to hospital but was in a stable condition.

Police blamed pro-British paramilitaries the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for starting the violence on Monday but said the shots were fired by dissident republicans, who oppose the peace process and want the province to be part of Ireland.

"The UVF in East Belfast started this," said Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay.

"Their hands are upon this, whether by direction, by omission or commission."

Although tensions calmed on Wednesday night, opposing factions threw bottles and stones at each other and a police armoured vehicle intervened to prevent a surge of republicans from reaching their Protestant loyalist targets.

Like most paramilitary groups, the UVF decommissioned its weapons and declared a ceasefire following the 1998 peace accords which largely ended the bombings and shootings in the British-ruled province.

But it was blamed for a brutal murder last year when a Protestant man was shot dead in broad daylight in an apparent execution-style killing.

Chantelle Stewart, 21-year-old Protestant who lives opposite the Catholic area where the trouble broke out, said: "It was the worst in years. There haven`t been gunshots in this road for years. Someone is going to end up dead."

She said she feared the province was reverting to its darkest days.

"People just want peace. They want somewhere where it`s quiet to live but it seems like it`s going back to the 1970s at the moment."

Many houses had windows freshly boarded up after they were smashed in the riots.

In the first night of rioting on Monday, two people were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.

Government insiders said the re-emergence of guns in Belfast was "worrying".

Bureau Report

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