22/08/2002

Police fire 27 baton rounds as mob violence flares in east Belfast

Sectarian violence in east Belfast reached a new low yesterday, with police officers firing 27 baton rounds in an attempt to control mobs during rioting which lasted for over six hours.

Last night's violence saw security forces come under sustained attack by masked gangs and nine officers were injured. None were thought to have been injured seriously.

On Tuesday night, six police officers were injured and two baton rounds were fired.

The first attacks occurred at around 9pm last night when masked gangs threw a variety of missiles, including petrol bombs, blast bombs and bricks and bottles. Soon after the first disturbances, the situation became so serious that an ambulance depot on Templemore Avenue was closed and cars were being diverted away from the Short Strand, Albertbridge Road, Templemore Avenue and Lower Newtownards Road.

A spokesman for the ambulance service Terry Gorman said: "The worst case scenario is a patient loses their life because they can't get an ambulance quick enough. Why can't they get an ambulance quick enough – because we had to close an ambulance station and move it to another location.

"Patients could suffer very severely," he added.

Armed men also attempted to hijack a bus on the Templemore Avenue.

Police report that their vehicles were attacked and at least two were damaged by gunfire and a blast bomb amid a continuous barrage of petrol bombs.

Police report that crowds dispersed at around 3am this morning.

In north Belfast, Army Technical Officers (ATOs) were called out to deal with three suspicious objects in Glenbryn Park. All were declared hoaxes and the remains of an exploded pipe bomb were recovered from the scene.

In the nearby Alliance Avenue, police were investigating reports from residents that shots had been fired.

Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn said that police resources were being "stretched to the limit" by the continued sectarian violence and that the situation was becoming critical. He is to meet with the Policing Board today.

The Liberal Democrats' Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik condemned the violence, saying: "There can be no justification for the continual level of violence we have seen in Belfast in the last few months.

"Tensions have been increasing in interface areas and I fear it is only a matter of time before there is another tragic and unnecessary death on the streets of Belfast. I urge local community leaders to continue to do all they can to ensure the violence is brought to an end."

(GMcG)

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