Minor skirmishes break out in tense Belfast

 

There have been minor skirmishes in Belfast this evening as police and residents brace themselves for another night of violence.

Three pipe bombs discovered were discovered at the rear of a business centre on the Crumlin Road and defused, police in west Belfast said, adding that they were taken away for forensic examination.

At the same time, 50 youths were involved in an attack on a police station on the Springfield Road, throwing stones and fireworks.

A number of vehicles were hijacked and Saint Matthew's Catholic Church was pelted with stones and bottles while a funeral was taking place this morning. The Lower Newtownards Road around Bryson Street and Templemore Avenue was only re-opened this afternoon.

Police said around 300 people gathered at the interface of the sectarian divide at Short Strand which has been the scene of rioting over the past week.

Ulster Unionist leader Mr David Trimble went to London for crisis talks with British Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair over the sectarian violence.

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While I understand that the police have a very difficult job to do in interface areas and I support them in policing a tense situation, nevertheless it is incomprehensible to those who have been attacked to find that the police turned their attention on them while turning their backs on the republican assailants.
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Mr Sammy Wilson, MLA for east Belfast

Following a 45-minute meeting with Mr Blair in Downing Street, Mr David Trimble said the British government had to act over the recent violence in east Belfast.

Mr Trimble said there was absolutely no doubt that it had been organised, primarily by the Provisional IRA, and that leading members of the IRA had been personally involved in fermenting trouble in the area.

"We have come here to the Government to say that they have got to think very hard about this."

Later, a Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Blair and Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid were following the situation in east Belfast closely.

She added: "We take the situation seriously, and condemn violence on both sides.

"We are working to secure a lowering of tension. We are keeping the state of ceasefires on both sides under close review and we support the police and Army in carrying out their difficult tasks."

Earlier today, Sinn Féin president Mr Gerry Adams and his PUP counterpart Mr David Ervine met in an effort to quell feelings.

But Unionist politicians accused a senior republican in the Short Strand area of beginning today's disturbances by attacking a 16-year-old girl.

Democratic Unionist police board member Mr Sammy Wilson, who was in the area, claimed the teenager had been beaten and spat at by a mob and criticised police for not arresting those responsible.

The East Belfast MLA said: "The police who once again appear to have no authority to go into Short Strand have made no attempt to arrest the perpetrators or to remove the republican mob from the chapel grounds.

"While I understand that the police have a very difficult job to do in interface areas and I support them in policing a tense situation, nevertheless it is incomprehensible to those who have been attacked to find that the police turned their attention on them while turning their backs on the republican assailants."

However, Sinn Féin councillor Mr Joe O'Donnell alleged nationalists were attacked as they made their way to a doctor's surgery and post office in Newtownards Road.

He also claimed mourners at the funeral of a 50-year-old woman were pelted with bricks from the loyalist side and some were injured.

"If society has sunk this low, I really despair. This is the lowest of the low. It is sick," he said.