Video: Sectarian violence erupts in Belfast

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/22/2011 9:50:23 AM ET 2011-06-22T13:50:23

Hundreds of rioters threw gasoline bombs and attacked police vans in east Belfast on late Tuesday as sectarian violence flared up for a second night in Northern Ireland.

About 700 people gathered on the street in the Short Strand area — a small Catholic community in a predominantly Protestant area of Belfast — and were causing "serious disorder," gasoline bombs, fireworks and other missiles, police said.

Journalists were warned away from the area after a press photographer was shot in the leg during the violence.

Roads in the area were closed and police were working to restore order. British broadcasters showed video in which groups of hooded and masked men pelted each other with stones and missiles, and many attacked police vans.

The police told BBC News that the shooting was being treated as an attempted murder. Two other injured men were believed to have burns.

Loyalist violence

Alistair Finlay, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told the BBC that he believed the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, had organized the violence.

"It does in our assessment seem to be the east Belfast UVF that has some influence round about this," he said. "Whether they have lost the influence to stop it, I don't know, but there certainly seems to be nothing to suggest that our position has changed, that the bulk of this violence is coming from the loyalist community and the UVF in east Belfast does have role to play in that."

Finlay told the broadcaster that it would be a "very strange development" if people were targeting journalists.

"But it would not be odd to target police officers and there were police resources round about where those journalists were standing," he added, suggesting officers were the real target.

Image: A Northern Ireland police officer puts a bandage on a press photographer's leg after he was shot by a rioter
Peter Morrison  /  AP
A Northern Ireland police officer puts a bandage on a press photographer's leg after he was shot by a rioter in East Belfast, Northern Ireland.

A photographer who was there when his colleague was shot described what happened to the BBC.

"I looked back and there was somebody peering over the wall and he shot about five or six rounds," he said. "We were all just running."

"The next thing I know a colleague of mine, he yells, 'I've been shot, I've been shot,' and I looked back and his leg on the bottom part, I don't know if he was grazed, or if the bullet went in or what, but I looked at his trousers and his trousers were all stained. It was wet, it was obviously blood."

He said the injured man was "doing fine."

"I just got a text from him. He's going into surgery this morning. The bullet went in and came out, so it is not life-threatening," he told the BBC.

Annual marching season
The violence comes at the start of Northern Ireland's marching season, a time of annual parades by Protestants which has triggered violent protests by Catholics in the past.

"I cannot remember in the last decade a situation like this in the Short Strand," Colm McKevitt, a member of the regional parliament for the Irish nationalist SDLP party told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

"It does not augur well for the city at the outset of the marching season after a few relatively good few years," he said.

Image: Loyalist rioters throw gasoline bombs
Peter Morrison  /  AP
Loyalist rioters throw gasoline bombs toward the mainly Catholic Short Strand area of East Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party, condemned the riot, which came after a separate bomb attack from dissident republicans targeted police in west Belfast early Tuesday.

The UVF said two years ago that it had completed the decommissioning of its weapons in line with other militant groups after a 1998 peace agreement mostly ended three decades of violence in the British-controlled province.

Violence first flared Monday night in Short Strand. About 500 people were involved in the street riots, which began when masked members of the UVF attacked homes with bricks, fireworks and smoke bombs, police said.

The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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