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The BBC's Jane Hughes reports
"Some of the worst riots seen in Belfast"
 real 56k

Alan McQuillan of the Royal Ulster Constabulary
"Tonight we have crowds of five or six hundred"
 real 56k

Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Police injured in sectarian riots
Riots in north Belfast
Violence escalated as the crowds clashed with riot police
Crowds of up to 600 loyalists and nationalists have clashed with police officers during overnight rioting in north Belfast.

Police chiefs say 39 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were injured during the violence, five of them needing hospital treatment.

More than 100 petrol bombs were thrown at officers, police said.

The rioting followed two days of tension between nationalists and loyalists at an interface in the Ardoyne district.

Violent clashes
39 injured police
8 plastic bullets fired
110 petrol bombs thrown

Eight of the new plastic bullets, recently introduced in Northern Ireland, were fired to disperse the crowds who threw stones and petrol bombs at riot police.

"This is one of the most difficult and notorious interfaces in Belfast. The two communities live cheek by jowl," said senior RUC officer, Alan McQuillan.

"What we had last night were simple naked sectarian riots with the police and the army in the middle attempting to keep the two communities apart."

The MP for the area, the Democratic Unionist Party's Nigel Dodds has said the violence was an extremely worrying development.

Click here Map of flashpoint area

"I would appeal for anyone who has any influence whatsoever in the community or political level to use their influence to try and restore calm as quickly as possible", he said.

Mr Dodds said that he would be raising the disturbances with the prime minister at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, where Mr Blair is to hold talks with the DUP.

The new security minister, Jane Kennedy MP, has condemned the violence as "sickening".


What we had last night was simple naked sectarian riots

Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan

Riot police formed battle lines using heavily armoured landrovers to separate the nationalist crowd at Brompton Park from loyalists at Twaddell Avenue.

Tensions rose in the area following a day of sporadic clashes between rival factions at another Catholic/Protestant interface at the junction of Alliance Avenue and Ardoyne Road.

'Riot situation'

The police said nine shots were fired during the violence, six from loyalists and three from nationalists.

The violence had diminished by the early hours of Thursday morning, however police are monitoring the situation.

Riot police in Belfast
Police say the situation is under control

The latest wave of violence broke as the police and army patrolled the streets following an explosion at about 1645 BST on Wednesday.

The blast occurred at the rear of nationalist homes which back onto Protestant houses near the peace line, which separates Catholics and Protestants.

A couple who were in the house at the time were badly shaken but not injured.

A shed in the back yard of the house was damaged.

Tension

Sinn Fein said the explosion was caused by a loyalist pipe bomb thrown at a Catholic home.

But Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party blamed nationalists for the sectarian trouble. He also condemned the blast bomb attack.

RUC officers are on duty at Holy Cross Girls' Primary school on the Ardoyne Road, where trouble first broke out when children and their parents were prevented leaving the school by stone throwing youths on Tuesday.

On Thursday, principal Ann Tanney said she had been assured by police that children will be protected throughout the day.

There has been tension in the area since a loyalist Orange Order parade on 15 June, when there were some minor skirmishes.


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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Riot police called to school attack
20 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Police keep factions apart
15 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Clashes at Orange parade
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