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Saturday, 23 June, 2001, 02:38 GMT 03:38 UK
Masked gunman fires shots into air

The gunman fired shots into the air
Police in Northern Ireland are investigating reports that a masked gunman emerged from a crowd in north Belfast and fired six shots into the air.

The incident follows several nights of sectarian violence in north and west Belfast in which dozens of RUC officers were injured.

A spokesman said the area around the flashpoint Ardoyne Road had been relatively quiet overnight.

Meetings took place between rival sides at the centre of the dispute in north Belfast aimed at bringing the bitter dispute to an end.

A loyalist group, calling itself the Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne, issued a set of proposals to nationalists

Click here to see a map of the flashpoint area

A public meeting unanimously backed an end to the street protests that have led to Protestant families leaving their homes and Catholic children belonging to Holy Cross Primary School being prevented from going to school through the loyalist Glenbryn area.

In a statement, the group called for public statements from both communities calling for an immediate end to all protests.

The statement also urged the setting up of a community forum to reach a resolution before the start of the new school year.

We would appeal to the nationalist community to accept this opportunity to bring the current problems to an immediate end

Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne
The statement read: "We would appeal to the nationalist community to accept this opportunity to bring the current problems to an immediate end and to create the space required to reach a workable resolution."

The shooting incident took place at about 1900 BST while a crowd was standing in the Hopewell Crescent area of the loyalist Shankill Road.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary said an amount of petrol and a number of bottles were recovered in the loyalist Glenbryn Parade area of north Belfast.

Earlier on Friday, the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, launched a scathing attack on rioters after another night of street violence in north Belfast.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Sir Ronnie Flanagan: scathing attack on rioters
Sir Ronnie said there were signs that the violence was being orchestrated by paramilitaires, including the loyalist Ulster Defence Association.

A total of 24 police officers were injured in the clashes with minor incidents occurring in other areas of the city.

The violence happened in an area where Catholics and Protestants live in close proximity and which has a history of sectarian tension.

The second night of violence there saw attacks intensify, with blast bombs hurled and shots fired at the police from the loyalist Glenbryn Parade area.

Chief Superintendent Roger Maxwell, the RUC's district commander in north Belfast, said the violence could not be blamed on the forthcoming loyalist marching season.

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