By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Rioting in north Belfast last weekend left 28 police officers and 10 civilians injured and has led to renewed calls for more security resources for the area to quell ongoing sectarian violence.
Belfast’s UUP mayor, Jim Rodgers, described the disturbances as deplorable and called for the use of water cannons fitted with dye spray to be brought in following the worst street trouble in the area for several months.
Estimates say 800 to 1,000 people were involved in the clashes, which began shortly after the Rangers football club in Scotland beat Celtic in the Cup final, when gangs of youth wearing Rangers’ colors swarmed on to the streets.
Gangs of loyalists began smashing windows in the New Lodge Road area and within hours areas, including loyalist Twaddell Avenue, nationalist Ardoyne, loyalist Crumlin Road, nationalist Duncairn Gardens and the mixed Whitewell district were embroiled in vicious exchanges.
Both sides hurled petrol bombs, bricks, fireworks, bottles and other missiles. Some community workers claimed the police had no emergency plan in place despite warnings that troublemakers in certain areas intended exploiting the tension caused by the game in Glasgow.
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The Progressive Unionist Assembly member for North Belfast, Billy Hutchinson, claimed every time Celtic has been beaten, riots resulted in the area with nationalists attacking loyalists.
But Sinn Fein’s Gerard Brophy claimed the trouble in North Queen Street was orchestrated by the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Defense Association. Brophy said the trouble began when 12 men attacked nationalist homes with iron bars.
As the trouble intensified, vehicles were set on fire and a 16-year-old boy was shot in the leg in what is believed to have been a loyalist drive-by shooting. Forty plastic bullets were fired by police as they tried to force the rioters off the streets.
Two officers were seriously hurt — one with suspected spinal injuries and the other thought to have suffered a fractured skull after a block was dropped on top of him from a garage roof.
Police said Monday it had identified at least 15 people involved in the disturbances and expected to identify many more rioters with a view to prosecution over the next few days.