Sectarian clashes flare in Belfast

2011-06-21 08:58
Belfast - Sectarian clashes erupted on Belfast's streets as masked Protestant rioters attacked Catholic homes on Monday, Northern Ireland authorities said.

More than 100 Protestant teens and young men bombarded Catholic homes with rocks, bricks and bottles. The street clashes occurred on a major sectarian fault line in east Belfast, pitting the Protestants of Newtownards Road against the Catholics of the Short Strand district.

Sporadic violence has been a regular feature of Northern Ireland's wider conflict since the late 1960s.

Catholic leaders said the violence was unprovoked, but Protestant leaders said the Protestants appeared to be retaliating for smaller-scale attacks by Catholics youths the previous night.

Most of the attackers wore hoods or scarves over their faces to make it harder for police using video cameras to identify them.

Peace lines

Riot police kept the two sides apart and came under fire from both directions. One police armoured vehicle was set on fire by a Molotov cocktail, but it wasn't clear which side threw it.

The Short Strand-Newtownards Road flashpoint is just one of more than 30 parts of Belfast where high barricades, known as peace lines, separate Irish Catholic and British Protestant turf.

Such peace lines have grown in number and size despite the success of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, which inspired a unified Catholic-Protestant government, the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army, and greater Catholic support for law and order.

Sectarian tensions typically flare in the build-up to July 12, a divisive Northern Ireland holiday when tens of thousands of Protestants from the Orange Order brotherhood march across the British territory.

One of the first contentious parades of the Orange marching season turned violent on Friday when police blocked Orangemen from parading through part of Ardoyne, a militant Catholic district that often seeks to lash out at passing Protestant parades. Four police officers reported minor injuries.
Read more on:    security

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