27 cops hurt in N Ireland riots
Belfast - Rioting by Catholics left 27 police officers injured in Northern Ireland, including three with gunshot wounds, officials said on Monday, ahead of the biggest day of Northern Ireland's marching season.
The overnight violence in Belfast saw missiles being thrown and petrol bombs ignited as Catholics took to the streets hours before Protestant Orangemen march in a traditional flashpoint in the British province.
"This is utterly wrong and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," said Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
"Those involved... were intent on causing mayhem and destruction."
July 12 is the biggest day in Northern Ireland's marching season and sees Protestants mark Prince William of Orange's victory over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Appeal for calm
Despite the relative calm in Northern Ireland since a peace agreement in 1998, violence frequently breaks out around July 12 as Catholics try to prevent the marches from going ahead.
Twenty-one police officers were injured last year and there have also been serious disturbances in previous years.
None of the officers injured overnight were seriously hurt.
"Officers put themselves in danger in order to restore normal and calm to the area for the residents who live there. No one wants a return to this type of behaviour," said Hamilton.
"We have appealed for calm in the run up to the 12th of July and we continue to do so.
"We would appeal to anyone with influence in the community to exert it to ensure that the next few days pass off without incident."