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In N. Ireland, Police Hope To Avert Future Riots
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In N. Ireland, Police Hope To Avert Future Riots

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In N. Ireland, Police Hope To Avert Future Riots

In N. Ireland, Police Hope To Avert Future Riots
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Belfast boiled over in a second night of sectarian violence, with youth hurling bricks, bottles and gasoline bombs. The unrest centered in Short Strand, a small Catholic community in a predominantly Protestant area of east Belfast. Police said about 400 people were involved. Violence tends to flare up before July 12, a divisive sectarian holiday.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Police are out in force this evening on the streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Their job is to prevent more running battles between young Catholics and Protestants.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the last two nights have brought the worst street clashes the city has seen in a decade.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

PHILIP REEVES: Masked youths throw fireworks, bricks and gasoline bombs.

(Soundbite of explosions)

REEVES: The police reply with water cannon and rubber bullets. These were familiar scenes in Belfast during the so-called Troubles, the years of conflict between mostly Roman Catholic nationalists seeking political unity with the rest of Ireland and mostly Protestant unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom.

But after the peace agreement of 1998, violence like this became a rarity.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

REEVES: These clashes happened last night, as Belfast was still celebrating the stunning victory of one of its own - the golfer Rory McIlroy, the new U.S. Open champion. They centered on a small Catholic enclave in predominantly Protestant east Belfast.

Sectarian trouble still flares up occasionally, especially at this time of year, ahead of the annual Protestant marches. This time, though, someone showed up with a gun.

Photographer Peter Muhley was there.

Mr. PETER MUHLEY (Photographer): And I looked back and there was somebody peering over the wall and he shot about, I would say, five or six rounds. And we all were - we were all just running. Next thing I know, a colleague of mine, he yells: I've been shot, I've been shot.

REEVES: His colleague, also a photographer, was shot in the leg. He's now in hospital.

Police blame the shooting on dissident nationalists, one of several small armed groups that reject Northern Ireland's peace deal. But officials blame a Protestant paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, for orchestrating the unrest.

Michael Doherty is director of Northern Ireland's Peace and Reconciliation Group.

Mr. MICHAEL DOHERTY (Director, Peace and Reconciliation Group): I think they're a group of Ulster Volunteer Force members who are saying that the dividend, that the peace dividend hasn't come their way.

REEVES: These flare-ups are not generally seen as a threat to overall peace in Northern Ireland. They've been confined to small areas and only involve a few hundred people.

But they are still causing considerable concern, says Assistant Chief Constable of Northern Ireland Police, Alistair Finlay.

Mr. ALISTAIR FINLAY (Assistant Chief Constable, Northern Ireland Police): This is a bad thing for the community. It's a bad thing for Northern Ireland. We need to listen and hear what the issues are and bring an end to this needless violence - this violence which has put lives at risk.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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