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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 20:53 GMT
Rioting follows NI school dispute
Rioting between nationalists and loyalists has flared in north Belfast after pupils were blocked from leaving a Catholic primary school.
Following the incident at Holy Cross Girls' Primary School, what police have described as "serious street disturbances" broke out nearby at the Ardoyne Road roundabout and on the Crumlin Road.
Police trying to keep the rioters apart came under attack and at least 14 officers have been injured - although none seriously.
The police said fireworks and missiles were fired at them. An unmarked armoured police car was also destroyed with a loyalist petrol bomb.
Motorists are being advising to avoid the area.
Three men were injured with shot gun pellets during the trouble. They were taken by ambulance from outside the Ardoyne shops to Royal Victoria Hospital.
A hospital spokeswoman said the men were in a stable condition.
At the Mater Hospital four patients have been treated for minor injuries following the violence.
On Wednesday afternoon pupils at Holy Cross Girls' Primary School were blocked from leaving the building to go home at about 1530 GMT by protesters at the school gates.
They were able to leave the school by bus after a time after the security forces arrived, while protesters remained at the gate.
Loyalist residents held protests outside the school in Ardoyne for 12 weeks from the beginning of the school year because of alleged attacks on their community by republicans.
During the protests by residents from the Protestant Glenbryn area, a daily security operation was put in place to enable the pupils to get to school.
However, the protests were called off in December after local community representatives and politicians held a series of meetings to try to calm the tensions.
Chairman of the school's board of governors, Father Aidan Troy, said a decision had been taken to close the school on Thursday because of fears the children would not be safe.
He said parents who arrived at the school on Wednesday afternoon found the Ardoyne Road closed by the police "because some of the parents going up to collect the children had been interfered with by some sort of physical bumping into".
Father Troy said he intended to meet teachers from the school on Thursday morning to discuss the situation.
He said: "We felt it was important to give at least one day to assess the situation, rather than trying to just carry on at the school."
Street disturbances had broken out in the Alliance Avenue area near to the Glenbryn area at about 1430 GMT before the protest at the school.
The trouble became more violent later in the afternoon.
Mark Coulter, a Protestant community worker in north Belfast, said it started on Wednesday morning when Catholics pulled a wreath off a lamp-post on Hesketh Road, off the Ardoyne Road.
Mr Coulter said cars on Glenbryn Park and part of Ardoyne Road had also been damaged by nationalists.
In another incident a Protestant pupil at the Boys Model School was injured when the bus he travelling on was attacked.
Ulster Unionist north Belfast assembly member Frazer Agnew said he was not surprised that violence had broken out because he said "trouble has been simmering all week".
Mr Agnew said Protestant people in Upper Ardoyne were angry that their "legitimate grievances and needs" were not being addressed.
But local Sinn Fein councillor Margaret McClenaghan accused loyalists of "deliberately trying to raise sectarian tensions in north Belfast".
She said: "Clearly the actions these loyalists were organised to some degree.
"Those responsible for these attacks and the blockade are clearly intent on raising sectarian tensions in the area, following the same agenda as the UDA have been following over the past number of years.
"I would call upon unionist and loyalist politicians to work to end this situation before it gets out of control."
North Belfast SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness said the was "a worrying development".
He called on people with influence in the loyalist community to do all they could to stifle further violence in the area.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid condemned the violence.
Speaking in the Commons he commended the courage of the police officers who had to deal with the rioting.
He said it would be a tragedy if the progress that was made last year in relation to the difficulties in north Belfast was thrown away.
Northern Ireland Security Minister Jane Kennedy also appealed for calm.
Northern Ireland First minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said in a joint statement: "We are deeply disturbed to see the renewed scenes of violence in north Belfast today after the progress which has been made in recent weeks."
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