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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 14:49 GMT
Cars attacked at Catholic school
Police are investigating the attack
Police are investigating the attack
An armed gang has damaged cars parked in a Catholic secondary school in north Belfast.

The police said they were investigating the attack on Our Lady of Mercy Girls' Secondary School by six men carrying crowbars.

Shortly before 1100 GMT the men went into the car park of the school on Bilston Road.

Eyewitnesses said at least one of them was armed with a gun.


While one of the men stood guard at the school's entrance, the rest of the gang attacked the cars, breaking windows and causing other damage to about 20 vehicles.

Jim Rodgers:
Jim Rodgers: "Those responsible for this are evil thugs"

One parent of pupils at the school said: "This has happened because Holy Cross was closed today."

Another parent said: "My two children say they don't want to come back to the school now, but what can I do? They have to go to school."

The incident came after a night of prolonged rioting broke out in the nearby Ardoyne area of north Belfast on Wednesday.

The clashes between nationalist and loyalist crowds, who also attacked the police, followed a confrontation at the Catholic Holy Cross girls' primary school in Ardoyne.

The school has been at the centre of a sectarian dispute since the summer.

Boy injured on bus

Loyalist residents from the Glenbryn area of Ardoyne, where the school is situated, held 12 weeks of protests there because they said republicans had carried out a campaign of attacks on their community.

On Wednesday the tensions spilled over into more than ten hours of rioting in the areas near the school, in which the police were attacked with petrol and acid bombs and other missiles.

In another incident on Wednesday afternoon, a pupil from the Protestant Boys' Model Secondary School was injured when the bus he was traveling in was stoned.

'Evil thugs'

Lord Mayor of Belfast and the vice chairman of the Belfast Education and Library Board, Jim Rodgers, condemned the "disgraceful" attack.

He said: "My thoughts are very much with the staff who had their vehicles vandalised.

''Those responsible are evil thugs whose hearts are filled with hatred and they should be utterly ashamed of themselves.''

Mr Rodgers appealed for an end to the attacks and street disorder.

He called on people to remain calm rather than heightening community tensions.

The local Presbyterian minister the Reverend Norman Hamilton said: "Whatever the reason, and whoever has done this, it is just truly awful."

BBC NI's Mervyn Jess reports:
"The way this attack was carried out has greatly concerned the parents, pupils and authorities"
Reverend Norman Hamilton, local minister
"There is a mood here of great sadness and distress"
See also:

10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Talks follow night of riots
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Footpath row 'led to riots'
07 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Counting the cost against the children
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