Police chiefs and politicians in Northern Ireland have appealed for calm following a night of sectarian rioting in Belfast that left 47 police officers injured and caused widespread damage.
Police used water cannon to disperse angry mobs, who threw petrol bombs, fireworks, stones and other missiles during the violence that erupted following a republican march in the city on Sunday.
“I am very proud of the courage and restraint shown by my officers last evening, in the face of extreme violence that resulted in 47 officers being injured and a number needing hospital treatment,” said Matt Baggott, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
“We will continue to act as peacekeepers and to keep communities safe: however, others have a responsibility within the community and wider society to resolve the conflict and tensions surrounding parading.”
Police said the initial violence was caused by pro-UK groups, who were protesting against the republican parade.
Tensions have been building in the Carlisle Circus and New Lodge areas of Belfast following disturbances last month when a Protestant band marched past a Roman Catholic church, playing music in defiance of a ban imposed by the Parades Commission, which regulates marching in the province.
A loyalist demonstration is planned along the same route later this month.
Nigel Dodds, Democratic Unionist party MP for North Belfast, said he hoped the argument over parades could be resolved.
“I remain hopeful because we have already seen some constructive engagement on both sides,” he said.
Northern Ireland has seen a big reduction in violent incidents since the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement led to devolved government and power sharing in the region. But sectarian tensions remain in working-class areas, many of which are divided by “peace walls” to keep the Catholic and Protestant communities apart.
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