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Peace talks after baton rounds fired during riots in Bangor

By Deborah McAleese

Peace talks were due to be held between police, UDA representatives and community workers today following a night of fierce rioting in Bangor.

It is hoped the meeting, expected to be held in Bangor police station, will help quell tensions in the town after police were forced to fire baton rounds during major disturbances, involving up to 200 people, in the Kilcooley estate.

Police say they fired the baton rounds, striking six people, after seven shots were fired at them during two separate shooting incidents.

Other missiles, including petrol bombs, fireworks and stones were also thrown at police during the night of trouble.

However, no officers were injured.

Bewildered residents in the estate woke this morning to scenes of devastation as burned out cars and rubble littered the streets.

Residents today claimed that violence flared when police carried out raids on 14 houses - some of which are understood to have been occupied by known loyalists with links to east Belfast UDA - while some of the families prepared for a funeral.

They said that mourners attending the funeral were refused access to their homes during the police operation.

The PSNI said that the raids were conducted "in relation to serious and organised crime in the north Down area".

Area District Commander, Chief Superintendent Graham Shields, said that the violence that followed the raids was or ganised.

"Let us be very clear, we had a crowd of 150 plus, brought on to the streets in an organised way, that attacked police very viciously. It is fortunate that no police officers or members of the public were injured," he said.

Ulster Political Research Group representative Frankie Gallagher, who was due to join a delegation of community leaders to meet police in Bangor today, said that the violence had nothing to do with tensions within loyalism.

He said: "This was a community reaction to an unprecedented search and had nothing to do with tensions within loyalism anywhere else.

"It was about the police searches and the fact people were not allowed to get suits for a funeral. There is a lot of discontent in unionist communities which are feeling isolated at this time. We condemn all violence and ask people if they have a problem with the police to go through the Police Ombudsman's office."

Mark Gordon, of the Kilcooley Community Forum, said he was anxious to ensure during the meeting that there is no further deterioration in the relationship between the PSNI and residents.

"From our point of view I am looking at how we deal with the aftermath of all of this," he said.

"There is no use in crying over spilt milk. What we want to do is to prevent a further deterioration in what has previously been an excellent relationship with the PSNI.

"It is our view that, had there been better communication with the police yesterday, this situation would not have escalated."

DUP Assembly member for the area Alex Easton condemned the violence and the attacks on the police.

"I would also call for calm in the area," the North Down MLA said. "This is the last thing that the Kilcooley estate needs.

"All the hard work that has been put in by community workers and groups in the area has been undermined by this type of tension and violence."

A major clean-up operation was under way today.

Belfast Telegraph


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