Paul Faith  /  AP
Firemen work to put out fires Sunday in the Loyalist Mount Vernon area of north Belfast, after rioters shook Belfast and surrounding towns overnight. Cars were being hijacked and set alight so regularly that roads were closed and motorists urged to stay home.
updated 9/11/2005 7:58:33 PM ET 2005-09-11T23:58:33

Protestant extremists rioted for a second straight night Sunday, attacking police and burning cars in some of the most widespread street mayhem that Belfast has experienced for a decade following anger over a restricted parade.

Police advised drivers to avoid several working-class Protestant parts of the city, where thousands of men and youths blocked roads and lobbed a range of objects — including homemade grenades — at police equipped with helmets, body armor and flame-retardant jumpsuits.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde, commander of Northern Ireland’s mostly Protestant police, blamed the Orange Order brotherhood for inspiring the riots. The violence began Saturday when police prevented Orangemen from parading near a hard-line Catholic part of west Belfast.

Orde said 32 officers were wounded Saturday and early Sunday while fending off mobs of angry, often drunken Protestant men and teenagers in several parts of Belfast and in seven other predominantly Protestant towns and villages. Two civilians also were injured in the violence.

He said two major outlawed Protestant groups, the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, helped orchestrate the attacks, adding that police seized a bomb-making factory and seven firearms in follow-up raids on Sunday.

“We are very lucky we do not have dead officers this morning. It’s a tribute to the way they responded and it’s a tribute to their tactics,” Orde said.

50 shots fired at police
Orde said about 50 rounds were fired at police positions Saturday in northwest Belfast, scene of the most protracted and dangerous clashes, but no officer was wounded by bullets. About a half dozen officers did suffer shrapnel wounds from homemade grenades.

On Sunday night, several hundred men and youths blocked roads and intersections in east and north Belfast. Rioters, covering their faces with scarves, pelted police vehicles with gasoline bombs, bottles, rocks and paint-filled balloons.

Homemade grenades containing packs of nails were lobbed into a police barracks in west Belfast, but the explosions injured nobody.

In one particularly blatant sign of outlawed groups’ involvement, masked and armed men stopped cars and checked people’s licenses at a police-style road checkpoint near the Mount Vernon neighborhood in north Belfast, a stronghold of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Such demonstrations are designed to mock police authority.

Summer's rough tradition
Orange marches, always a divisive summertime tradition, triggered widespread violence in the mid-1990s but comparatively little in recent years. Belfast’s last major riot came July 12, when about 500 Catholics attacked police following a small Orange parade in north Belfast. On that occasion, about 100 officers and 10 civilians were wounded.

But this weekend saw the worst riots by Protestants since July 1996, when Protestants rioted across Northern Ireland for four nights straight over another blocked Orange Order parade. On that occasion, police caved in to the pressure, allowing the Protestants to march — and triggering three more nights of Catholic rioting.

This weekend, police and soldiers said they fired about 430 plastic bullets at rioters. They also deployed massive mobile water cannons, but these proved ineffective in clearing the streets.

In several locations, Catholic hard-liners also joined in the all-night fray, tossing rocks, bottles and other objects into police lines and the Protestant crowds beyond.

On Sunday, Catholics — about 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s 1.7 million population — weighed whether to attend services at their local churches, particularly those near hard-line Protestant turf.

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