PEACE UNDER SIEGE
A wave of intense street violence has gripped Belfast and other
towns in the North of Ireland as unionists seek to send a
message over recent developments in the peace process.
For a third night, unionist paramilitaries have mounted attacks
with bullets, petrol bombs and blast bombs. Cars have again
been hijacked and burned as mobs of 'loyalists' continue to
terrorise the main Belfast arterial routes.
Nationalists and British forces have sustained numerous
injuries, with at least one Catholic man in critical condition
Water cannon has again been brought to the hardline unionist
Shankill area of west Belfast as PSNI police struggle to cope
with a hard core of rioters.
On Saturday night, live gunfire was exchanged between the PSNI
and unionist paramilitaries in some of the most intense clashes
in recent years. Petrol bombs rained down on police lines from
behind burning barricades across Belfast and in parts of
Counties Antrim and Down.
The violence, which was tightly organised by the
unionist paramilitary UVF and UDA, began during a parade by the
Protestant Orange Order which had been rerouted
away from a republican area of west Belfast.
The Orangemen, some in traditional
garb, appeared to work in concert with the paramilitaries,
attacking police and initiating riots as their parade ended.
Unionist politicians have failed to condemn the violence, citing
anger at perceived concessions to republicans following
the end of the Provisional IRA's armed struggle.
According to police statistics, 450 were plastic bullets fired
and 32 police officers were injured over the weekend. More than
50 live rounds were fired by unionist paramilitaries, while many
of those engaged in rioting appeared drunk or on drugs.
One man was critically injured after being caught in an
explosion, another was shot in the stomach by a loyalist sniper.
Police later found seven guns and what they described as a "bomb
Families have spoken of their alarm as masked gangs hijacked
cars and busses and robbed their possessions.
Tensions were already high in Belfast following police raids
aimed at curbing the bloody feud raging between the rival
unionist paramilitary groups, the UVF and LVF, that has claimed
four lives this summer. That turf war escalated further on
Friday when two men were shot in separate gun attacks in
Then tension hit a higher notch when hardline DUP leader Ian
Paisley warned that the rerouted Orange Order parade could prove
"the spark which kindles a fire there could be no putting out".
UUP leader Reg Empey blamed police actions for provoking the
The first hint of the orgy of violence came when a 29-year-old
Catholic man was savagely beaten by 10 men early on Saturday
morning on the Albert Bridge Road near the Short Strand in east
Belfast. The victim remains in critical condition in hospital.
Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey challenged Mr Paisley,
Mr Empey and Orange Order chief Dawson Bailey to condemn the
He said: "The widespread disruption and attacks are not just an
attempt to terrorise the nationalist community, but they are an
attack on the whole community.
"Unionist leaders must make it clear that there can be no
justification for such actions, and that they stand against this
violence and intimidation."
After snipers fired at least 50 shots at his officers following
the parade, the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde, accused the Orange Order
of stoking the violence. He said: "I have seen members of the
Orange Order in their sashes attacking my officers. I have seen
them standing next to masked men. That is simply not good enough
... The Orange Order must bear substantial responsibility for
"They publicly called people on to the street. If you do that,
you cannot abdicate responsibility."
Yesterday the Orange Order condemned the remarks as "inaccurate
and inflammatory", but the PSNI later released footage clearly
showing Orangemen attacking police lines.
Dawson Bailie, district master of the Order in Belfast, said:
"As far as I'm concerned the people to blame for that are the
secretary of state, the chief constable and the Parades
Commission, fairly and squarely."
He added: "I'm not condemning anything at this moment in time."
Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP has accused
unionist politicians of creating a political vacuum that is
being filled by unionist paramilitary violence.
"Unionist politicians and the Orange Order cannot shirk
responsibility for the increased violence seen over the past few
days," he said.
"It is incumbent on unionist politicians to stop the
prevarication and engage with the representatives of the
nationalist/republican people now in order to remove this
"Unionist politicians must use their influence in a positive
manner to have all activity by unionist paramilitary
organisations stopped immediately."