Eight police officers have been injured in rioting in a loyalist area of Belfast.
Officers were targeted in Sandy Row by a crowd of mostly young people throwing bottles, bricks and fireworks.
In a statement on the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Twitter account, Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls called for calm.
“Eight officers have so far been injured after being subjected to a sustained attack by rioters who have thrown a number of objects at police, including heavy masonry, metal rods, fireworks and manhole covers,” he said.
Local communities do not want to be dragged back to the pastPSNI's Simon Walls
“Their injuries include burns, head and leg injuries. Seven people have been arrested at the scene.
“I am appealing to all those involved to stop this appalling behaviour immediately. Police are trying to protect those living in the Shaftesbury Square, Donegall Road and Sandy Row areas and it is completely unacceptable that my officers are coming under sustained attack.
“I would encourage anyone who has influence to use it now and stop the rioting before anyone else is injured, or worse.
“Local communities do not want to be dragged back to the past. They deserve to live in safe and peaceful areas, free from rioting, violence and wanton destruction of their communities.”
The incident on Friday evening started in the Shaftesbury Square area before moving into nearby Sandy Row.
The trouble came after four successive nights of disturbances in the unionist Waterside area of Londonderry.
The disorder has flared amid ongoing tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.
Loyalists and unionists are angry about post-Brexit trading arrangements which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Tensions ramped up further this week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.
In the wake of the decision not to take action against the politicians, including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, all the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.
The Sandy Row disturbances, which unfolded ahead of a planned loyalist protest in the area, were met with widespread political condemnation on Friday night.
However, the main non unionist parties also accused unionist leaders of creating the febrile atmosphere and stoking up tensions.
Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “This is in no-one’s best interests – not the officers dealing with it and not the mostly young people risking their futures by engaging in it.
“It’s incumbent on leaders to behave responsibly and dial down the inflammatory rhetoric over recent days. Words have consequences.”
SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna tweeted: “Sad to see disorder in Sandy Row. Usual suspects with no vision whip up tension for electoral gain, which they never use to improve life for those they pretend to represent. History repeats, people lose hope, kids get criminal records, communities pull apart. There’s a better way.”
Sad to see disorder in Sandy Row. Usual suspects with no vision whip up tension for electoral gain, which they never use to improve life for those they pretend to represent. History repeats, people lose hope, kids get criminal records, communities pull apart. There’s a better way— Claire Hanna (@ClaireHanna) April 2, 2021
DUP MLA for the area Christopher Stalford said: “Given the actions of the Deputy First Minister some folks may believe that they can break the rules.
“That is not the case – two wrongs don’t make a right.
“The vast majority of people involved in this incident were under the age of 18.
“I do not want to see young people, acting out of frustration at recent developments landing themselves in trouble with the law and ending up with criminal records.
“Everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to it, from the highest office holder in the land to every other citizen.”
Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey said: “The DUP and political unionism are failing unionist working class communities through their dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric which is continuing to lead to heightened tensions.
“This is a time for calm heads and responsible leadership.
“I appeal to the DUP and political unionism to show leadership, to end their dangerous rhetoric and to ensure there is an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”
In response to the incident, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie tweeted: “Stop please……. this is not going to help anyone or change anything. It damages and endangers your own community, it undermines any grievance you might have and it will achieve nothing.”
The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, tweeted: “Once again the outworkings of political flux in Northern Ireland results in our @PoliceServiceNI colleagues being attacked.
“No excuse for violence and condemnation across the political spectrum would be welcome.”