Man shot, girls injured by explosive as new violence breaks out in Belfast, police say
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) – Rival groups of Catholics and Protestants pelted each other with homemade grenades Sunday in Belfast, injuring two young girls, police and residents said. One man was hospitalized with a gunshot wound.
More than 100 Catholics and 50 Protestants had to be driven apart by police in full riot gear during the confrontation in the Limestone Road area of north Belfast, a sectarian front line plagued by rioting in recent months.
Residents said shots were fired throughout the area and homemade grenades were thrown. Two girls, aged 8 and 11, were hospitalized after a homemade device exploded near them, police said. A hospital spokeswoman said later that the girls went home after two hours; she did not disclose the extent of their injuries.
The policeman coordinating security efforts in north Belfast, Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, said the device had been thrown by Protestants.
A man who was struck by a bullet in a Protestant part of a predominantly Catholic area underwent surgery for what was believed to be a chest wound, police said. A spokeswoman for the Royal Victoria Hospital said he was in satisfactory condition.
Police said later that the bullet had been fired from a nearby alleyway by the predominantly Catholic Hallidays Road, said McQuillan.
”We are not in a position to say which organization was responsible,” he said.
The violence came amid mounting speculation that the Irish Republican Army was planning to offer a disarmament gesture to ease the current crisis facing Northern Ireland’s joint Catholic-Protestant government.
The government, a product of the province’s 1998 peace pact, faces suspension or dissolution this week after the Ulster Unionists resigned their posts in the coalition, citing the IRA’s refusal to disarm.
There has been sporadic rioting since June in several parts of north Belfast where Catholics and Protestants live close to each other. Police say most of the crude homemade grenades have been thrown by members of the Ulster Defense Association, or UDA, an outlawed anti-Catholic group that is supposed to be observing a cease-fire in support of the 1998 accord.
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