Dissidents 'shot photographer'

Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 01:00

Dissident republicans were responsible for the gun shots which wounded a press photographer during serious rioting involving up to 400 people in east Belfast last night, police said.

The Press Association photographer was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital with an injury to his right leg following the burst of three shots. He is said to be in a stable condition.

Petrol bombs, fireworks, bottles and bricks were among items thrown at police during a second night of the worst violence in the area for many years.

“Police can confirm that dissident republicans were responsible for the shots that were fired during last night’s disorder in East Belfast,” a PSNI spokesman said.

There are no reports of fresh clashes in Belfast tonight.

There have been pitched battles between loyalists and republicans in the Lower Newtownards Road and Short Strand areas during the last two days. The police were targeted after they came between the two sides.

The Ulster Volunteer Force was blamed by police for igniting last night's trouble. “The UVF in East Belfast started this there was no sense of anyone trying to finish that,” Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said today. “Their hands are upon this, whether by direction, by omission or commission.”

A 20-year-old woman was arrested on a weapons charge during the rioting, which saw masked youths pelted each other with stones and fireworks, while police lines came under fire from missiles.

Youths were seen using sledgehammers to attack police vehicles and stood on the bonnet to try to rip the protective metal grille from the windscreen as officers tried to drive them back. A water cannon vehicle sustained a cracked windscreen and there were marks from live fire.

Several shots were discharged and a Press Association photographer was shot in the right leg. He is recovering in hospital. Police fired 66 baton rounds in last night’s violence.

On Monday night, two people were shot in the legs during an intense bout of rioting. It followed loyalist attacks on houses in the Catholic Short Strand area, which police also blamed on the UVF.

Mr Finlay said the attacks were less orchestrated than the previous night and called for dialogue to discuss all issues behind the violence. “This has got to stop, it is a time for cool heads, for people to take a step back,” he said.

He defended the fact that only one arrest was made and said that was not necessarily the priority in situations involving public disorder. Police made arrests following violence last summer using CCTV images of rioters.

Officers are holding talks with community representatives today to try to prevent further trouble. Police are also working with social workers to try to identify children who may have become caught up in the rioting.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the riots, as well as a separate bomb attack aimed at police in west Belfast. "“At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets," Mr Robinson said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny today condemned the street violence. “This is a situation that, obviously, demands our serious attention,” he told the Dáil this morning.

The sudden upsurge in violence is being described as the worst the city has seen in years and loyalist community workers blamed simmering tensions at the notorious sectarian interface. But other observers blamed rivalries inside the UVF, fuelled by anger at restrictions placed on contentious parades, plus the efforts of police to investigate crimes from the Troubles as part of an ongoing review of cases by the Historical Enquiries Team.

The UVF is one of the biggest loyalist groups and, despite having observed a ceasefire and having decommissioned its weapons, it was blamed for the murder of loyalist Bobby Moffett, who was shot dead in front of shoppers on the Shankill Road last year.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board chair Brian Rea condemned the recent violence, saying those involved had nothing to offer the community "except terror and misery".

The National Union of Journalists condemned the attack on the photographer. Irish secretary Séamus Dooley said the shooting represents an attack on the media in Northern Ireland and was "an extremely worrying development".