Hundreds of unionists held a mass anti-Catholic rally outside the Whitehall Square apartments in Belfast city centre on Wednesday evening in the latest effort to intimidate Catholics out of the area.
PSNI police were nowhere to be seen as fears of violence mounted in the course of the evening.
Local Ulster Unionist Party councillor Bob Stoker was reported to have said that Catholics should not be living in the area and they should leave or ‘suffer the consequences’.
He defended the action, which he said was in response to attacks on Protestants by ‘republicans’ in nearby Sandy Row.
However, last night the police admitted they were not aware of any attacks on Protestants in the district.
The Whitehall Square apartments have been attacked on a number of occasions in the last two years forcing a number of Catholics to flee their luxury flats.
Sectarian graffiti was daubed on the development on Wednesday morning and the distribution of hate leaflets was an escalation of the campaign.
Nationalist politicians accused Mr Stoker of inflaming tensions following his refusal to condemn the leaflets and for other comments he made.
Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey said Mr Stoker’s remarks touched on “incitement to hatred”.
“There can be no justification for attacks and intimidation of the kind witnessed in the Village area. Catholics have as much right to live in the Village area as anyone else,” he said.
Other UUP politicians appeared divided on the issue. Assembly member Esmond Birnie described the rally as “intimidatory”. while fellow UUP assembly member Michael McGimpsey described it as “a non-threatening protest”.
Alex Maskey called on the UUP leader David Trimble to immediately clarify his party’s position regarding the intimidation.
“ The ongoing intimidation and the protest last night raises serious questions about the role of the UUP in all of this. Is the justification of attacks on Catholics and the intimidation of people from their homes UUP policy?
He said the UUP “are very good at lecturing republicans” yet see no contradiction in justifying and encouraging intimidation and violence against vulnerable Catholics. If any other party was engaged in such activity there would be a media outcry.”
Meanwhile, the attempted abduction of a 14-year old school boy on his way to school in North Belfast this morning was blamed on unionist paramilitaries.
The St Patrick’s College School pupil was on his way to school at about 8.30 when he was approached by two men driving a red car as he made his way from the Cliftonville Road to school on the Antrim Road past Brookfield.
The schoolboy was asked if he was a Catholic and then the men attempted to abduct him in what was the second attempted abduction of a Catholic in this area within the past week.
The earlier incident, that also involved a St Patrick’s college schoolboy, occurred in the Newington area less than 100 yards away from the latest incident.
Local Assembly member Kathy Stanton urged nationalists throughout North Belfast to be “extremely vigilant as there appears to be a concerted effort by a unionist paramilitary group to abduct a Catholic.
“This appear to be part of a pattern increasing unionist paramilitary activity throughout North Belfast which will only increase tensions in the run up to the Orange Order marching season.”
Meanwhile, a family was targeted in a pipe-bomb attack at their home in County Down.
The device landed on the roof of a shed behind a house in the mainly loyalist Breezemount Rise in the early hours of Thursday morning. It exploded, breaking a rear bedroom window and causing damage to a wardrobe.
The bomb was thrown from an alleyway behind the house.