BELFAST, Reuters Northern Ireland police and British troops restored calm to a Belfast flashpoint area on Friday after a second night of rioting by rival Protestant and Roman Catholic crowds.
Police said several shots were fired at them as they tried to keep petrol bomb and stone-throwing Protestants and Catholics apart in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.
No one was hit by the gunfire but up to 20 police officers were hurt in the violence, orchestrated mainly by loyalists.
Northern Ireland police chief Ronnie Flanagan condemned attacks on police. “My reaction first of all to the violence is to compare the magnificent young men and women of the RUC with the scum that attack them,” he said.
“I think it is pathetic and just wish everyone in Northern Ireland would wake up to that fact.”
Witnesses said the trouble was on a lesser scale than the previous night, when police fired plastic bullets in some of the worst rioting for several years in the British province’s capital. Thirty-nine police were hurt on Wednesday night.
The sectarian-triggered violence erupted as London and Dublin prepared for talks at Hillsborough Castle on the outskirts of Belfast on Friday to get the province’s edgy peace process back on track after a long dispute over guerrilla disarmament.
The IRA has opened up some of its arms dumps for international inspection, but unionists say this is not enough.
After meeting Britain’s Northern Ireland Minister John Reid and Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, Sinn Fein parliament member Martin McGuinness condemned the violence and criticized the silence of Protestant politicians.
McGuinness said the meeting was frank and forthright and he hoped to have further talks.
“We have worked tirelessly, we have been flexible. We have been to the forefront of trying to resolve the arms issue, but with precious little help from anybody else,” McGuinness said.
“I think people, particularly the British government, need to get real and start standing by the (Good Friday) agreement made in 1998.”
Before the talks, pro-British Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he still intended to resign on July 1 if the Irish Republican Army had not started to decommission weapons. “There is unfortunately no sign as yet of progress,” Trimble said.
He ruled out someone else from the party replacing him as the province’s first minister to shore up the institutions. He said neither he nor anyone else would take the post unless progress was made.