Police in Belfast were attacked with explosives and gasoline bombs last night as riots continued for a fourth night and protests spread over a ban on a Protestant parade passing by a Catholic area of the city.
Bombs were thrown at police lines in the Newtownards Road area of east Belfast, a police spokesman said in a recorded message yesterday. In north Belfast a “pipe-bomb-type device” was thrown at police. No injuries were reported.
The violence began on July 12, the climax of a Protestant celebration of a 17th century victory over Catholics, when thousands of parades marking the victory take place across Northern Ireland. One such parade was banned from passing by the Catholic district of Ardoyne in north Belfast and Protestants have been protesting at the decision since then.
Police closed off areas of east, north and south Belfast last night as trouble flared. An area of Portadown, a town around 40 miles south of Belfast, was closed to vehicles because of gathering crowds. Water cannons were deployed in Belfast and at least one plastic bullet was fired by police during the violence.
Northern Ireland is enduring its most violent year in a decade after loyalists, who want the region to remain part of the U.K., staged months of protests at the start of the year over a decision not to fly the British flag from Belfast’s city hall every day. Those protests, which began in December, didn’t end until March.
The region’s power-sharing assembly, revived in 2007 as part of a peace deal that ended three-decades of violence which claimed 3,500 lives before largely petering out in the mid-1990s, is being recalled today to debate the latest violence.
The assembly is dominated by the pro-U.K. Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, whose allies in the Irish Republican Army fought for a united Ireland from 1969 until formally ordering an end to their campaign in 2005 and pledging to pursue its goal peacefully.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland, formed in 2001 to replace the mainly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, has drafted in more than 1,000 officers from other parts of the U.K. to help deal with the rioting. Special courts have been created in Belfast to deal speedily with those charged with rioting.
Last month, the region, which has the fastest-growing unemployment rate in the U.K., staged the G8 summit, with British Prime Minister David Cameron saying it provided an opportunity for Northern Ireland to attract international investment.