Nationalists urged to remain calm

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Sinister efforts to involve nationalists in the current wave of loyalist violence are continuing after a week of some of the worst disturbances seen in the north of Ireland in over eight years.

The loyalist strategy of stoking sectarian conflict continued on Friday night with violence at a north Belfast interface. Bins were set alight by loyalist youths and a car was burned in the middle of the road in the Tiger’s Bay area in order to create a disturbance. Stones were thrown at the nationalist New Lodge and the PSNI police, who then turned and clashed with republican youths.

Nightly violence has gone largely unchecked in unionist districts in both Derry and Belfast, most dramatically seen in the hijacking and burning of a moving passenger bus on the Shankill Road on Wednesday.

That same night saw the worst of the violence with an attempt by loyalists to invade a nationalist area through one of the most dangerous interfaces in the north, the one between Shankill and Clonard. They were prevented from advancing and starting a major conflagration only by the restrained and determined actions of republicans in the area.

The situation recalled for some the pogroms and burnings in 1968, and the pattern of that era has echoed with the recurring failure of Stormont to deal with the loyalist threat.

While the violence has been centred in Derry and Belfast over the past eight days, incidents have also taken place in regional towns. A masked loyalist band marched in Portadown on Monday while another illegal loyalist parade parked a mini-riot in Ballymena on Tuesday.

There was also an incident in Coleraine on Friday night when loyalist youths gathered blocking roads and burning debris. Further disturbances are expected across the north over the weekend.

The PSNI have repeatedly displayed an unwillingness to tackle loyalists with the same aggression reserved for Catholics, who have been struck by water cannon, baton charges and other violent police actions as they gathered to protect their homes.

The PSNI adopted a particularly low profile on Wednesday as hundreds of loyalists attacked the interface at Lanark Way in west Belfast and laid siege to the peace-line barricade separating the Shankill from the Springfield Road. The police stood back and watched as loyalists burst open reinforced steel gates by driving hijacked vehicles into it.

But the actions of the Crown Forces on Thursday in attacking the defenders on the Springfield Road could only be described as as an act of collusion. Dressed in full riot gear, the PSNI advanced with dogs, batons, plastic bullets and water cannon. Once again, only sensible restraint and the intervention of local residents prevented potentially fatal levels of violence.

There has also been no attempt to stop camouflaged loyalist rioters from gathering at sectarian interfaces. On Wednesday, in one absurd scene, gangly youths and children in paramilitary-style clothing were applauded by loyalists as they ran to their target in the manner of a school sports day.

“These are crime gangs who are orchestrating violence for their own ends,” said Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly, who was present at clashes on Wednesday evening.

“By bringing people onto the street this is going to escalate,” he said, calling for those organising the violence to stop.

Saoradh urged people in republican and nationalist areas to be vigilant.

“Loyalists, no doubt, will attempt to attack and invade other areas they may view as weak. Rest assured Republicans will not be found wanting when it comes to defending our areas from loyalist pogroms and Saoradh will stand with our defenders,” they said.

They also condemned what they said was a “compliant media” and the “paid lackeys and apologists of the Crown” who had they said had “refused to state the obvious in that loyalists are given free reign from the state to go on the rampage and attempt to invade the Springfield Road but, once Republicans repel the invaders, Crown Forces attack Republicans en masse.”

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