Eleventh mayhem

Heavy rioting took place in north and west Belfast overnight arising from loyalist bonfires ahead of today’s climax of the marching season.

Masked members of the PSNI riot squad used plastic bullets and water cannon against the nationalist youths who threw stones, bottles and a small number of petrol bombs.

The trouble late on Sunday night in the New Lodge area of north Belfast was described by the PSNI “sustained”.

A BB gun was also used during the disturbances at North Queen Street. The BBC reported that at least one car was hijacked and set on fire.

The PSNI said up to 200 people were involved, and were hit with water cannon and plastic bullets.

Elsewhere, loyalists attending a bonfire in Donegall Road attacked nationalists in the Broadway area.

Last weekend, two Catholic teenagers were injured by plastic bullets, one seriously, following several days of dlsturbances in the area.

It is the third consecutive year that trouble broke out at the bonfire ahead of the annual ‘Twelfth’ sectarian parades by the Protestant Orange Order, taking place across the North today.

It was claimed two male police officers and a policewoman were hit by pellets in north Belfast, and a total of 23 were injured in the rioting.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Basil McCrea, a member of the policing board, described last night’s events as an “escalation” as a result of the use of the BB gun.

The violence was “nasty” and “worse than it has been for a number of years”. He blamed “rival gangs” for the trouble, and claimed the PSNI had been “caught in the middle”.

“There’s an escalation in the sense that when somebody is using a firearm that is a serious turn of events.

“We have had trouble in Broadway for the last three or four nights and the concern is that it is organised by dissident republican people. It doesn’t seem that is the case.”

Elsewhere, a PSNI vehicle’s windscreen was smashed with an axe and members of the force were pelted with petrol bombs during separate disturbances in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ballymena.

Saturday night also saw a mini-riot in the mainly loyalist Ballybeen estate, with a number of petrol bombs thrown.

A house was destroyed and two others damaged after a a loyalist bonfire got out of control in Newtownards, County Down.

One firefighter suffered minor injuries while tackling the flames and had to be treated at the scene by ambulance personnel. Two oil tanks also caught fire and one semi-detached house was gutted in the blaze.

And seven people, including two young children, were injured after being hit by a car while attending a bonfire in south Belfast.

The ‘Twelfth’ is the annual high-point of the Protestant Order’s parading calendar.

The marches commemorate Prince William of Orange’s 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over Catholic King James II.

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