Intense rioting has engulfed north Belfast after a parade by the Orange Order was forced through the republican Ardoyne area.
A major pitched battle was taking place tonight between local residents and the PSNI in an area focused on the Estoril Road, near the Ardoyne shops.
As the situation escalated in north Belfast, disturbances spread to the Markets area of south Belfast, Derry’s Bogside, the Dunclug area of Ballymena as well as parts of north Armagh. Burning barricades have been erected tonight by nationalists in the Gobnascale area of Derry and in Ballymena, according to reports.
Trouble appeared inevitable when a massive security operation took place to seal off the route of the parade in Ardoyne, the most contentious of hundreds of parades across the North to mark ‘the Twelfth’, the climax of the Protestant marching season.
A sense of siege grew among residents as routes in and out of the area were blocked by the PSNI.
The Crumlin Road was the focus of the PSNI’s efforts after the Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective, which opposes the Orange parade passing through the Ardoyne, had been denied the right to gather there. The PSNI moved in to seal off the road over fears the residents would mount a sit-down protest on the road to block the Orangemen’s path.
Tensions had also flared earlier in east Belfast when another Orange parade openly flaunted a Parades Commission determination and engaged in a number of coat-trailing attempts to provoke the nationalist Short Strand community.
The Ardoyne march took place at about 7pm this evening. The Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective held a peaceful protest in response to the Parades Commission decision to allow the march to pass the shops. However, both the parade and the protest were quickly overshadowed as local youths, many of whom wore masks or scarves, began throwing stones, bottles, fireworks and petrol bombs at the PSNI on the Crumlin Road.
Cordoned off from their own community, hundreds of residents battled the PSNI in the face of a hail of plastic bullets and jets of water cannon.
A number of objects were used by rioters to form a barricade tonight, including a burning car and a settee. One water cannon was reported to have been set ablaze during particularly intense rioting.
Amid the fighting in Ardoyne, the homes of nationalists in nearby Alliance Avenue were attacked by loyalists, with reports of shots being fired in the area.
A further report on tonight’s events will be carried in tomorrow’s full bulletin.