Belfast Telegraph

'I object to the term recreational rioting, these people are throwing petrol bombs'

By Chris Kilpatrick

After nights of fierce rioting involving the use of petrol and paint bombs, the atmosphere was tense.

Police Land Rovers were positioned throughout the east Belfast interface area which has been a battleground in recent evenings.

Nervous anticipation was etched on the faces of many of those making their way home for the evening as darkness set in.

Shortly before 8pm, pockets of youths began to gather on both sides of the divide, police officers keeping a watchful eye from nearby vehicles.

Their colleagues carried out regular patrols, officers doing laps of the area throughout the night.

Close by, substantial backup was discreetly positioned, ready to intervene should there be any repeat of the violence.

Both police and residents have been caught in the middle of the shocking scenes which have blighted the area over the past week.

Initially officers were targeted as they tried to keep rival gangs from either side of the interface apart.

But in recent nights the trouble moved deeper into the loyalist area with those involved setting their sights firmly on police.

Some of those behind the violence were said to be barely into their teens.

PSNI Superintendent Darrin Jones said it was vital parents take action immediately.

"I object to the term 'recreational rioting'," he told this newspaper.

"These people are throwing paint bombs, they are throwing petrol bombs.

"Nine petrol bombs were thrown last night at police. Now if they hit police it's bad enough, but if they hit a bystander or a motorist going about their business that will have serious consequences for those people.

"I would say at the start there would have been a sectarian element to this, but last night this was a predominately loyalist crowd attacking police."

Residents said there have been problems with gangs fighting for more than a year, though the violence has intensified over the past week.

On Tuesday night police were responding to a report of a car on fire at Castlereagh Street and once drawn into the area came under attack. The vehicle destroyed belonged to a Polish woman.

The owner, who is seven months pregnant, said she was frightened by what happened but didn't believe she was targeted because of her nationality.

Petrol bombs were also used against officers on Saturday and Sunday evenings as they strived to keep rival factions apart.

Supt Jones said video footage was being gathered by officers and would be used to identify perpetrators in the coming days and weeks. Police are also examining social media sites as part of their investigation.

Since April more than 50 people have been arrested in relation to trouble in the area.

"People need to realise we've gathered evidence and over the next week or so we will make arrests. Youths and others have got to realise this will have consequences," the senior officer warned.

Mr Jones said the onus was on parents to ensure their children are not caught up in the violence.

Alliance councillor Maire Hendron said residents, stranded in the middle of the trouble, were frustrated and fearful.

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