Gunmen injure three in North

Belfast erupted in sectarian violence for the fourth night in a row after loyalist and republican gunmen wounded three people.

In the first incident at around 6.30pm yesterday, two men were shot in the loyalist area of Cluan Place by a republican gunman as rival gangs clashed.

Loyalist Assembly member David Ervine said he had no doubt the Provisional IRA was involved.

Two hours later, a bus driver was wounded by flying glass when his vehicle came under attack from a gunman in Lower Newtownards Road.

Police blamed the attack on loyalists.

Bus services in the city were suspended indefinitely in a bid to protect drivers and passengers.

Loyalists clashed with the security forces again at around 10.45pm, opening fire on police and the army and firing petrol bombs.

Police returned fire with plastic bullets.

Earlier, up to 1,000 people were involved in hand-to-hand fighting in the Short Strand and Albertbridge Road area.

East Belfast had been tense throughout the day after the wounding of three Protestants in Cluan Place last night.

There was a heavy police and army presence in the Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road and Short Strand areas while loyalists celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee with street parties.

Following a weekend of violence, community leaders and politicians appealed for calm.

Assistant Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn urged loyalists and republicans to pull back, warning them that they were ‘‘sleepwalking into the abyss’’.

Mark Durkan, leader of the nationalist SDLP, also condemned the violence and accused paramilitaries of trying to exploit the situation.

Mr Durkan, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, said: ‘‘We have to be in a peace process to remove all violence from our streets and not to pretend that there are permissible forms of violence or accepted locations for it.

‘‘People of all backgrounds and persuasions have the right to live in peace and safety in their own homes and streets.

‘‘It seems clear that different paramilitary elements are prepared to ferment tension and trouble in the hope that they will profit from the fall-out.’’

After the first attack, Progressive Unionist David Ervine claimed the nationalist Short Strand area was developing into a ‘‘no-go area’’ for the security forces.

‘‘My understanding is the two young men shot earlier tonight were boarding up the windows of houses in Cluan Place when there was a large volley of stones and bottles,’’ he said last night.

‘‘Then a gunman appeared and injured the two. The situation is very difficult and dangerous right now. Five members of the loyalist community have now been injured in gunfire over the past 24 hours and it appears a gunman is able to roam around the Short Strand which seems to be something of a no-go area for the police and army.

‘‘I do not know what nationalists are attempting to achieve, what their strategy is but it could have pretty deadly consequences. I do not think there is any question that the Provisional IRA is in directly involved in this.’’

The violence was described as ‘‘mindless’’ by Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy.

She urged both sides to stop, claiming the violence served no other purpose but to damage communities.

‘‘Anyone engaged in such mindless violence must face up to the possibility that a life may be lost or serious injury could be caused,’’ she said.

‘‘No grievance exists that can possibly justify such an outcome.’’

Most Read in Ireland