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In Pictures: Baton rounds fired in fourth night of Ardoyne violence

Violence again broke out on the streets of north Belfast last night with police firing baton rounds in an attempt to disperse rioters.

It is the fourth consecutive evening of skirmishes in the Ardoyne area involving rival groups of nationalist and unionist youths and the police as they tried to intervene.

Golf balls were thrown from the Loyalist Twadell Avenue area towards Brompton Park at the top of Crumlin Road and petrol bombs and stones were lobbed at police shortly after 10pm.

Earlier on Wednesday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness insisted the peaceful majority would defeat the extremists.

"It is quite clear that there are groups out there who are committed to try to plunge our society back into conflict," Mr McGuinness said after he and Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson met the region's police chief.

"One thing is absolutely certain - they will not succeed. They will not succeed because we are determined to stand together and use all our resources to ensure that they do not achieve their worst aim and I think as we go forward we go forward in unity."

The Sinn Fein MP's comments came as Prime Minister David Cameron branded the rioters' actions "completely unacceptable" and paid tribute to the "restraint" and bravery shown by the police.

Officers have come under sustained attack from republicans at flashpoints across Northern Ireland in the past 72 hours as tensions surrounding the Protestant July 12 commemorations erupted into violence and disorder.

The most serious trouble was witnessed after a contentious Orange march passed the notorious Ardoyne interface in north Belfast, when hundreds of rioters fired petrol bombs, blast bombs, bricks and bottles at police lines.

One policewoman sustained head injuries when she was knocked to the ground with a breeze block thrown from a roof top.

Shots have also been fired at police in south Belfast - leaving three officers with shotgun pellet wounds - and in Londonderry.

Police CCTV images from Ardoyne showed that most of the rioters were teenagers and in some cases young children.

Commanders believe sinister elements with dissident republicans were orchestrating and fomenting the violence, using the children as cannon fodder and human shields.

After the meeting with chief constable Matt Baggott at Stormont Castle, First Minister Mr Robinson said the powersharing executive was committed to doing all it could to address the situation.

"We have made it very clear to the chief constable that this administration is determined to move our society forward," he said.

"Of course along the route we are going to see issues that occur where we have disappointments about what has occurred.

"We are particularly disappointed when we see young people involved and the baton of hatred being handed on to another generation."

The Democratic Unionist leader also denied there was a rift between Stormont ministers and the police in the wake of a spat he had with a senior police commander.

Assistant chief constable Alistair Finlay yesterday singled out Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness when questioning whether politicians had done enough to try to prevent violence around the summer marching season.

In response, Mr Robinson branded Mr Finlay's remarks "unhelpful and unacceptable".

Today he struck a more conciliatory note.

"We have nothing but the highest admiration for the way the police have coped with the most difficult of circumstances over the last couple of days and we again call on our whole community to stand beside the police at this time and every time," he said.

Flanked by the First and Deputy First Ministers, Mr Baggott also moved to dispel any suggestion of a fall out.

"I have never had a rift with my colleagues standing to the left and right of me here," he said.

"We are absolutely determined that we will make progress and do the right things."

While the police have pledged to identify and round up the perpetrators, the surveillance images released showing officers holding the line in the face of wave after wave of attack have prompted questions as to why more concerted attempts to arrest the rioters were not made at the time.

But Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland today defended the tactics.

"The reality is that if we advance with snatch squads there are sinister elements ... in the crowd who would happily want to draw the police into side streets and back alleys, for the simple reason to launch more serious attacks against them - gun and blast bomb attacks against them," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

Belfast Telegraph


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