Violence spreads in Northern nationalist areas after marches

 

REPUBLICAN paramilitaries were involved in a gun battle in west Belfast early this morning when they opened fire on police in Ballymurphy. No organisation claimed responsibility, but sources said it was carried out by the INLA.

The gun battle came as violent protests took place in nationalist areas around the North, after a day in which 1,500 Orange lodges celebrated the Twelfth with hundreds of parades, which were largely incident-free.

Several gunmen opened fire on the New Barnsley police station at around 12.30 a.m. A spokesman for the RUC said no one was believed to be injured in the attack. He could not confirm reports that gunmen had shot at police Land-Rovers on the Springfield Road.

Automatic weapons are understood to have been used in the attack.

The gun battle came after sustained fighting between the RUC and local youths.

Ballymurphy remained sealed off early today, with hundreds of people out on the streets and the atmosphere very tense.

The INLA has been engaged in a de facto ceasefire for the last two years.

Soldiers in combat gear were on foot patrol in Belfast, where there was sustained rioting. Early today a Protestant church was set on fire in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast.

There was serious rioting in Derry for the second night with more than 1,000 youths involved in running battles with the RUC. Vehicles were again hijacked and burned on the city edge of the Bogside and rioters attacked RUC Land-Rovers with stones, bricks and petrol bombs.

There was rioting in Dungiven, Co Derry, where a Church of Ireland hall was burned down, and in Strabane, Co Tyrone, where buildings were set on fire, and the fire services had to be rescued from rampaging youths.

Residents of the Markets area said several people had been injured by plastic bullets when the RUC entered the area.

Nationalist resentment over Thursday's police action at the Garvaghy Road in Portadown was further fuelled yesterday morning when the Catholic population of the lower Ormeau Road in Belfast was penned in by hundreds of RUC vehicles and personnel to allow a bitterly-disputed Orange parade to march through the area.

The North was already counting the cost - political and otherwise - of the previous night's convulsions, which left over 200 people injured, three of them seriously.

Sinn Fein said that 1,400 plastic baton rounds had been fired in nationalist areas since the ending of the Drumcree loyalist stand-off on Thursday, compared with a total of 660 rounds used against loyalist rioters in the previous four days.

A 19-year-old man was reported to be critically ill after reportedly being hit by a plastic bullet during rioting in Derry on Thursday night. Another man was seriously injured when he was hit by an RUC Land-Rover in Armagh.

Three RUC men were taken to hospital, two of them after they were hit by flying missiles and one after he was burned by a petrol bomb. None suffered serious injuries.

There were widespread Catholic protests over the 15-hour police and army operation which sealed off the lower Ormeau district overnight to allow members of the Ballynafeigh Orange Lodge to parade past. As the smouldering wrecks of vehicles in north and west Belfast bore evidence to mounting nationalist anger, some 80,000 Orangemen took part in the Twelfth parades.