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10/12/2007

Westlink Bridge Opens Sectarian Attack Route

Belfast's busiest road has once again become a 'front line' as tensions build between rival loyalist and nationalist youths.

The Westlink – which has previously been the scene of many clashes between 'warring' factions - is once again being highlighted after a house at Roden Street, in the loyalist Donegall Road area, was targeted twice over the weekend.

The opening of a new pedestrian bridge is being blamed for exacerbating the trouble which led to windows at the property, owned by grandmother-of-five, being smashed on Friday and on Saturday.

Community workers from the loyalist Village and nationalist Grosvenor Road areas where the attacks are happening said problems have escalated since a new footbridge was built over the Westlink.

They claim the design and location of the bridge gives youths an easy escape route.

Heather Elwood of the Village Focus Group said: "We have had 72 incidents in three weeks.

"Until this new bridge there were few problems. There had been problems in the past but both communities were working together to resolve the situation.

"There was no consultation with either community about the location, if there had been we could have told them this sort of thing would happen."

Daniel Jack from the Safer Neighbourhood Project which works in the nationalist Grosvenor estate said: "The bridge is a magnet for youngsters because it is so easy for them to access the other side."

Residents want to see the bridge closed off at night in a bid to prevent such attacks.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "Police in south Belfast are investigating an incident of criminal damage in the Roden Street area and are liaising with community representatives to resolve the situation."

(BMcC)

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