Plea for calm as rioters clash in Short Strand
Political leaders appealed for calm in east Belfast last night after violence flared with petrol bombs and other missiles thrown.
Sinn Fein blamed scores of masked men, who they said were wearing camouflage clothing and surgical gloves, for launching coordinated attacks on the republican Short Strand area.
It was the second night of violence at the notorious peace wall.
Masked men, many wearing balaclavas and scarves covering their faces, were caught up in the violence.
The rioters were said to be attacking nationalist homes and St Matthew’s Church on Bryson Street.
There was a heavy police presence in the area. However, the PSNI was criticised by residents and politicians for their handling of the situation.
Fighting broke out between the loyalist Newtownards Road/Mountpottinger area and the nationalist Short Strand shortly before 10pm last night. Petrol bombs were thrown, as were bottles and other missiles.
Police were called in as community workers and local councillors tried to defuse the situation.
Conflicting reports emerged as both sides claimed their homes had come under siege.
Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile, who lives in the Short Strand, said it was a “tense and dangerous” scene.
“They've hit homes with paint bombs, pipe-bombs and petrol bombs,” he stated.
“A pipe-bomb-type device has gone off. There's a number of Short Strand residents who are injured and a number of homes have been damaged.”
But UUP MLA Michael Copeland said: “It’s a follow-on from last night when houses on the Newtownards Road were attacked from Strand Walk and the grounds of St Matthew’s Church,” he said.
Speaking from the scene, he said wheelie-bins full of bricks were being brought into the area, and hundreds of people were coming from the Newtownards Road direction.
As the riot escalated around him, he criticised the lack of police presence.
“The police are sitting in the Land-Rover doing nothing,” he said.
“The people in St Matthew’s appear to have been well prepared. They are saying they’re defending the church, but that’s not what people here are telling me.
“They’re saying that houses on the Newtownards Road were attacked last night from Strand Walk and St Matthew’s.”