Violence condemned by Prime Minister and First Minister as Translink withdraws services from area
Police officers have been attacked and a hijacked bus set on fire during violent disturbances at an interface area in west Belfast.
Public disorder broke out after crowds gathered at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road, the PSNI have said.
Earlier tyres and bins were set on fire near interface gates. It had been reported that a peaceful protest had been planned.
Police are advising members of the public to avoid these areas and have appealed to those with influence in the area to use it to help restore calm.
Around 6pm stones were thrown at police while Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott was assaulted and verbally abused while he covered the protest.
A fire also broke out in the mainly nationalist area of New Lodge.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attack on Twitter, saying: "There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted that he had been left "deeply concerned" by the incident, and called for dialogue.
A joint statement issued by North Belfast DUP elected representatives described the scenes as "deeply disturbing and highly detrimental to local communities."
"Those who have orchestrated and carried out these acts of violence need to bring them to an immediate end," it said.
"We understand the frustration and anger arising from recent political developments. However these do not provide an excuse for acts of violence and instead must be addressed robustly though peaceful and democratic means."
I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist. The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 7, 2021
The attack on the journalist was also condemned by Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey and Amnesty International NI.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly insisted the "disgraceful scenes" of violence and destruction had "clearly been planned in advance and orchestrated by loyalist criminal gangs."
"The location of these so-called protests close to interfaces is a clear and deliberate attempt to raise tensions and incite further violence. There are reports coming in of incidents at other interfaces as well," he said.
Condemning the attack on Mr Scott, he continued: "We have also seen a bus hijacked and burned which must have been a terrifying experience for the driver. No worker should have to face that while going about their day's work.
"These senseless incidents need to end before someone is killed or seriously injured."
Mr Kelly added: "I would appeal to anyone involved in these incidents to desist. Those behind these despicable attacks and disturbances need to call a halt to them immediately."
Videos circulating online show a bus being pelted with petrol bombs and having its windows smashed where a crowd of people had gathered.
Translink Metro said it had withdrawn all services into the area until further notice due to road closures, as well as services in east Belfast.
It confirmed that a Metro Bus, service 11a was hijacked and group chief executive, Chris Conway revealed that passengers were able to get off the bus "safely before the attack occurred".
" My thoughts are with the driver who is badly shaken but thankfully unhurt, he is being supported by colleagues," he said.
Condemning the incident, Mr Conway said Translink was "working closely" with the PSNI on the matter, adding that services will "remain withdrawn until it is safe to reinstate them".
“Our staff have been working on the frontline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep essential services operating and to keep communities connected, and this attack is reprehensible," he added.
A crowd of around 500 people, most of them adults, gathered on the corner of the junction at Lanark Way as events unfolded.
Further down the road a bonfire was lit where a crowd of approximately 100 people, mostly young, were assembled.
The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled on Thursday morning for an emergency debate following days of violence.
Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the violence that has been witnessed in recent days.
Cars, a JCB digger, a phone box and bins were set alight in the Waterside area of Londonderry on Monday.
Earlier, DUP MP Gregory Campbell urged loyalist protesters to "use their heads'" and step away from situations which may descend into disorder.
He was speaking after several consecutive nights of violence across Northern Ireland which resulted in 41 police officers injured and 10 arrested.
The cause of the unrest has been attributed to frustration over a decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Fein over alleged coronavirus regulation breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.
Opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol and drugs seizures against a dissident faction of the UDA in south east Antrim have also been blamed.
The DUP has called for the resignation of police chief Simon Byrne over the lack of prosecutions.
"If people use their heads and they think ahead and say 'we're not going to give people the opportunity to say a chief constable can't stand down because of the threat of violence'," Mr Campbell told the BBC.
"That is something that would have a resonance across the community. Don't give them that excuse.
"They should think long and hard before taking part in any protests that could eventually result in violence and serious hurt being done to individuals as well as to the wider community they live in."