US vice president Joe Biden has told Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness that he is deeply concerned about parade-related violence and attacks on police.
The vice president told both men in telephone calls today that he supported calls for calm and respect for the rule of law, the White House said in a statement.
Last night marked the fourth consecutive night of violence in Belfast.
Mr Biden also spoke to the new chair of the all-party group, former US special envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass. The group will address sensitive issues such as parades, protests, flags, symbols and emblems.
“The vice president and the US government, along with the British and Irish governments, will stay in close touch with Dr Haass as he assists the political parties of Northern Ireland in the crucil work of healing the divisions of the past and building a truly shared future,” the vice president’s office said.
Tackling sensitive issues was “essential to creating a lasting peace and assuring the road to prosperity for all in Northern Ireland,” said the White House.
“It will require political courge, creativity and compromise on the part of all Northern Ireland’s political parties.”
Seventy-one police officers have been injured in four nights of rioting in Northern Ireland linked to the banning of a contentious Orange Order parade.
Police revealed the latest casualty toll as Assembly members prepared to reconvene at Stormont to debate the impact of the dispute.
Sixty rioters have been arrested since trouble first flared on Friday night when Orangemen were prevented from marching through the nationalist Ardoyne area of North Belfast at the conclusion of traditional Orange Order Twelfth of July commemorations.
Ahead of the Assembly's recall, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Matt Baggott urged politicians to use "calming" words.
“In the aftermath of four days of disorder and attacks on police, I would urge the Assembly to condemn all violence, unequivocally support the brave efforts of my colleagues and affirm that all protests must be both peaceful and lawful,” he said. “The PSNI is resolved to upholding the rule of law. Today is a day for calming words and a renewed commitment from the Assembly to finding political solutions. There are already too many injured police officers and young people facing prison sentences for anything else to be acceptable.”
In the first three nights of unrest, violence was largely focused on the loyalist Woodvale area close to the Ardoyne, with some disorder in the east of the city as well. There was violence in and around Woodvale again last night, with a blast bomb also thrown at officers from the Ardoyne, but trouble spread further.
In the Lower Newtownards Road area of East Belfast, at least six blast bombs, a large number of petrol bombs, masonry and other missiles were thrown at police. Loyalists and republicans were involved in the disorder.
Elsewhere in North Belfast, police were attacked in the republican New Lodge area, with 11 officers injured by masonry missiles, and on the loyalist Mount Vernon estate. In greater North Belfast, a number of missiles were thrown at police in Newtownabbey by loyalists, while in the south of the city opposing factions threw missiles at each other in the Broadway and Glenmachen Street areas.
In Derry an estimated 90 loyalists took part in white line protests police seized around 20 paint bombs believed to have been stashed by local youths. Part of Portadown was closed to vehicles because of gathering crowds.
MLAs will meet at noon to discuss a Democratic Unionist motion which claims that attempts to build a shared future have been harmed by the decision of the Parades Commission adjudication body to block the controversial Orange Order parade on July 12th.
The DUP motion, which branded the Parades Commission determination illogical, also calls for tolerance to be shown for everyone's cultural identity. It is the second time this month that the Stormont Assembly has been recalled for an emergency plenary session.
Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland, whose East Belfast constituency has seen some of the worst of the violence, expressed concern about the debate. He said: "I fear it may be a waste of time. It could be subject to a petition of concern. The people I feel most sorry for are those who live daily in the shadow of the 'war walls' and who have to listen to the high and mighty discussing the situation that they are living in with little regard for them."
Yesterday, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr appealed for mature political leadership and said he hoped the Stormont debate could create calm in the community. He also revealed that hundreds more police officers would be drafted in from forces across the UK if the violence continued.
Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne said the violence was “deplorable” and called for political agreement on how to tackle the issue in future. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “At a senior level there does need to be political agreement around how to manage parades. It has been on the cards for many years now and it’s why an all-party group has been set up to look at parades, flags and emblems, how we deal with the past.
“More power to the elbow of those politicians, from our end, if they can reach agreement around parading.”
The vast majority of parades were peaceful and “we are making real improvements”, he said. “But it is appalling that this violence has been visited on the police over the last few days, it is something that should be deplored by everybody. “What actually annoys me more than everything else is some people pointing a finger at the police when they have shown incredible restraint over the last few days.”