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Monday, 3 June, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
NI police chief warns of 'fresh nightmare'
Houses were set on fire by petrol bombs
Houses were set on fire by petrol bombs
Northern Ireland is heading for "a fresh nightmare" following further sectarian rioting, the acting chief constable has warned.

Colin Cramphorn said someone would be killed unless steps were taken to move back from "the abyss".

Three people were shot and wounded in rioting in east Belfast on Sunday.

Two 15-year-old youths and a 39-year-old man were shot during the trouble in the Short Strand/Albertbridge Road area, although none of them are described as seriously injured.

These people have gone through a weekend of terror

PUP leader David Ervine

During the fighting, houses were set on fire by petrol bombs and families were moved out of a loyalist district after they were targeted by nationalists across a peace line in the Short Strand.

Speaking at police headquarters in Belfast on Monday, Mr Cramphorn said: "We are only just at the beginning of the summer season and yet we have seen truly disturbing incidents of public disorder during the weekend.

"Everybody needs to understand that they are the losers in this.

"Not only are police and military colleagues suffering by acting as a buffer between the communities and thereby preserving life, but both communities are suffering.

"We have seen pensioners forced out of their homes on both sides, property set on fire and persons shot."

Mr Cramphorn said both sides had to realise the severity of the situation.

"They are sleepwalking into an abyss. It is only a question of time before somebody is killed unless steps are taken to de-escalate the situation."

The police chief also said that because the situation across Belfast had been deteriorating for a number of weeks, about 250 troops drafted back into the province for the Queen's Jubilee last month had been retained.

"It's a very good job too," he said.

Lower legs

Meanwhile, there was a short protest at Alliance councillor David Alderdice's home by loyalist residents angry that he is supporting a Sinn Fein mayor.

He later travelled to east Belfast to see the damage caused by the rioting.

The Housing Executive said 34 homes on either side of the peaceline had been damaged during the rioting.

Six householders from the loyalist Cluan Place asked to be rehoused.

Earlier on Sunday, police came under attack as they dealt with sectarian disturbances in north Belfast.

Sunday's violence, in an area where Protestants and Catholics live side-by-side, followed several nights of fighting between rival mobs in east Belfast, which left 10 police officers injured.

Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, who was at the scene when the violence flared in Short Strand, said the man injured in Sunday night's shootings was taken to hospital after being hit in the back and lower leg.

He said the two youths had suffered bullet wounds to their lower legs.

Petrol bombs

As blast bombs continued to rain down, Mr Ervine said: "These people have gone through a weekend of terror."

Mr Ervine accused the Provisional IRA of orchestrating the trouble.

However, Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said no one could be sure who was involved.

Residents forced to flee their homes, including several pensioners, were taken to other houses and church halls.

Police said trouble erupted when stones and missiles were thrown into Cluan Place from the Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in Protestant east Belfast.

Later petrol bombs were lobbed at loyalist homes.

PUP leader David Ervine
David Ervine called for calm
Two houses were set alight, with fire crews being called to extinguish the blaze.

Meanwhile, the police are treating a fire at a Catholic Church in east Belfast as arson.

The fire was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday at St Anthony's on the Woodstock Road.

It caused damage to a wall and carpet as well as smoke damage inside the church.

Earlier on Sunday, a crowd of about 200 Catholics and Protestants began fighting in the Whitewell Road area of north Belfast.

As police moved in to clear the crowds, they had bricks, stones and petrol bombs thrown at them.

A police service spokesman said no officers were injured.

Two men were arrested and charged with riotous behaviour.

Fireworks thrown

On Saturday night, police came under renewed attack from groups of rioting youths in east Belfast.

Gangs threw missiles at police and soldiers during the disturbances.

Bricks, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown at security lines.

There were no reports of any injuries and order was later restored to the area which has been the focus for sectarian fighting in recent weeks.

On the previous night, 10 police officers were injured during sectarian rioting in the same area sparked by loyalists hanging Jubilee bunting outside their homes, close to a Catholic community.

The BBC's Ireland correspondent Kevin Connolly said it was predictable there would be disturbances in north and east Belfast because it was a holiday weekend.

He said: "It was quite noteworthy over the last year or so that on summer bank holidays weekends, rioting has been particularly bad.

"Very often that's because the kind of people who are involved in this rioting don't have to go to work the following day, or in most cases, don't have to go to school the following day."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"Fireworks, petrol bombs, stones and bottles showered down on police"
BBC NI's Julie O'Connor:
"Houses on both sides of the divide are boarded up and empty"
BBC NI's Julie O'Connor:
"Colin Cramphorn said someone would be killed unless steps were taken to move back from the abyss"
See also:

02 Jun 02 | N Ireland
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