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N. Ireland cops face 'Disney theme park for rioting'

Rioters attacked police in Northern Ireland for the fourth straight night with children as young as 9 taking part in the mayhem, according to reports.
Image: Rioting in Belfast
Police officers face rioters throwing Molotov cocktail and bricks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Wednesday.Stephen Wilson / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Rioters attacked police in Northern Ireland for the fourth straight night with children as young as 9 taking part in the mayhem, according to reports.

Molotov cocktails were hurled at officers in Belfast, Britain's Press Association reported on Thursday.

On Monday, nationalists attacked police with petrol bombs during parades by the pro-British Orange Order and tried to set a train traveling on the Belfast-Dublin line on fire. The unrest followed violence on Sunday night in which three police officers were shot and wounded.

The BBC reported that two men had been detained for questioning in connection with the gun attack.

Violence almost invariably occurs on the sidelines of summer parades by Protestants, but this year was the first since Belfast took control of Northern Ireland's policing and justice matters from London.

The devolution deal was one of the biggest steps since a 1998 accord ended decades of violence between predominantly Catholic Nationalist groups who want a united Ireland and mainly Protestant unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday, political and religious leaders pleaded for Catholic teenagers and children engaged in rioting to stop before one of them is killed and becomes a martyr for Irish Republican Army dissidents.

Their appeals followed street mayhem in working-class Catholic parts of Belfast that one priest described as "a Disney theme park for rioting." Children as young as 9 have been attacking static lines of riot police, while other youths cheer them on and take photos for display on social networking sites such as Facebook.

So far 83 police have been wounded, none critically. The heavily armored officers have responded with water cannons and volleys of blunt-nosed plastic bullets capable of cracking ribs and skulls. No serious injuries among rioters have been reported, although injured rioters often avoid hospitalization because they face likely arrest.

"Sadly, those in the front line of public disorder appear to be mostly young people from disadvantaged areas looking to break the boredom of a long and inactive summer," said Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

'New generation of martyrs'
He warned that IRA dissidents trying to whip up opposition to Northern Ireland's systems of law and order "are actually hoping that one or more of the rioters will be killed or maimed in their conflict with the police, so that a new generation of martyrs for the cause will inspire others to follow."

The violence began Sunday night before mass Protestant parades by the Orange Order brotherhood, an annual event that always inflames sectarian tensions between the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority. The violence spread to several Catholic parts of Belfast, the second-largest city of Londonderry and the towns of Armagh and Lurgan.

A Catholic priest who works in Ardoyne, a traditional IRA power base at the center of this week's trouble, said local youths want to attack the police regardless of any Orange provocations because they consider it fun.

"Recreational rioting is the term," said the Rev. Gary Donegan, a 46-year-old priest who has spent the past two nights trying to disarm youths and get them out of the streets.

He said Ardoyne overnight "was like a Disney theme park for rioting."

The priest said girls, many of them dressed for a night out — "At one stage it looked like a Milan catwalk," he quipped — had come to watch masked, hooded boys riot. He said boys in turn appeared determined to impress the girls with their bravery as they hurled bricks, bottles and Molotov cocktails against a backdrop of cell phone camera flashes.