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Stop riots now before lives are lost, pleads Naomi Long

Justice Minister calls for calm after third night of attacks on PSNI as DUP and Sinn Fein play blame game

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister has called for an end to rioting, warning that it could end in tragedy.

Naomi Long was speaking after 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers in Newtownabbey on Saturday evening in what police said was an "orchestrated attack".

It followed violent scenes in the Sandy Row area of Belfast on Friday and successive nights of trouble in Londonderry.

Violence flared near the Cloughfern roundabout on O'Neill's Road, while three vehicles were hijacked and set on fire.

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Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Video footage showed one of the rioters ablaze after getting caught up in the flames.

On Sunday night rioters had gathered again in the area and petrol bombs were thrown at police.

Last night, as the DUP and Sinn Fein blamed each other for stoking tension, the body representing PSNI officers said the police cannot be used as a political football.

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Mark Lindsay, who chairs the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, urged politicians to consider the human cost of their inflammatory language, and warned that officers were paying the price for a lack of leadership across society.

Mrs Long pleaded with people to stop before lives are lost.

She tweeted: "Easter Sunday is a celebration of the Christian gospel of love triumphant over hate, hope over despair, reconciliation over brokenness. The images from across Northern Ireland today instead are of property destroyed, lives endangered. Stop this now, before lives are lost."

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Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

North Area Commander Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said Saturday night's riot lasted for around three hours from 7.30pm and involved a crowd of approximately 20 to 30 people consisting of young people and older men.

"Throughout the evening local councillors worked very closely with police in an effort to diffuse the situation," he said.

"This was an orchestrated attack on police who were carrying out their duties to help protect the people of Newtownabbey.

"My officers put on their uniform every day and go out into the community they serve, not knowing what lies ahead of them.

"However this does not deter them from turning up every day to do their duty. No-one, no matter what line of work they are in, deserves to be subjected to any kind of violence.

"The officers who serve the Newtownabbey area are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, they have families who wait every day on their loved ones coming home, hoping they have not been injured, or worse."

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Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Weekend of violence: Police came under attack in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Chief Supt Beck added that no one needs the added pressure of disorder in their community, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

"Everyone deserves to live in peace, free from violence," he said.

"I would appeal to those who are taking to the streets to stop immediately, their actions are causing nothing but harm and distress to the very communities they claim they are representing.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve better. No-one wants to be dragged back to the dark days when rioting was a common occurrence on the streets of Northern Ireland."

Yesterday the DUP's Gregory Campbell called for calm and for attacks on the police to stop.

"Rioting and injuring rank and file officers will only result in young people being criminalised," he said.

The East Londonderry MP also criticised Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly for comments on Saturday about the disorder.

Mr Kelly claimed the disturbances were "a direct consequence of the actions of political unionism" and accused "DUP rhetoric" of sending a "very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas".

Tensions are running high within loyalism over post-Brexit trading arrangements which some see as creating barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Anger ramped up further last week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending the Bobby Storey funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.

Unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

Mr Campbell accused Mr Kelly and Sinn Fein of "arrogance" and "not recognising the major part they played in creating" anger in the community.

"Sinn Fein helped organise an IRA man's funeral where 2,000 people attended when other people couldn't even have some of their own children at the funeral of a loved one," he said.

"Gerry Kelly and co need to get real. People aren't taps that some politician can turn on or off."

Yesterday the PSNI announced that a 47-year-old man has been charged in connection with rioting, and throwing a petrol bomb in Newtownabbey. He is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on Monday, April 26.

Meanwhile seven people have been charged after the disturbances in the Sandy Row area.

Four adults - three men aged 25, 21 and 18, and a woman aged 19 - have been charged with riot.

All four are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on April 30.

Three teenagers, aged 17, 14 and 13, have also been charged with riot and are due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on April 30.

Fifteen PSNI officers were injured during the rioting in Sandy Row on Friday night. Petrol bombs, bricks and fireworks were thrown at police lines with up to 200 people involved in the disturbances, which followed a protest advertised on social media earlier in the day.

First Minister Arlene Foster warned young people not to get "drawn into disorder", an appeal echoed by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, who said the violence was "completely unacceptable".


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