Northern Ireland news

Tensions remain high after bonfire removal

Police presence at the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire after it was set alight prematurely as contractors were about to remove it. Picture Mal McCann.

A heavy police presence remained across parts of Belfast and North Down last night with fears of a loyalist backlash following the removal of bonfire material from two sites in east Belfast.

Shortly after 8pm Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd warned that the UVF intended to riot.

“Police have received information from the community which indicates that the East Belfast UVF intend to orchestrate and participate in serious disorder in East Belfast this evening directed against my officers," he said.

“I would strongly urge people to desist from engaging in any violent or criminal behaviour. I would also appeal to those who have influence in this community to discourage people from taking part in any illegal activity.

“The safety of the public and my officers is of paramount importance and accordingly I will be reviewing my resourcing plans to ensure there is an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in place to deal with any disorder should it occur.”

It came after around 200 riot police attended the controversial Bloomfield walkway bonfire following a high court order to remove the towering pyre on Tuesday night.

There was a stand off throughout the night, with several hundred loyalists at one stage occupying the site.

At around 5am yesterday police and contractors were preparing to move in, loyalists set fire to the structure which was five times the recommended size for the plot.

Firefighters managed to control the Bloomfield blaze limiting to minor any damage to nearby properties and a council owned soft play area.

Police then escorted masked contractors, hired from outside of Northern Ireland, as they removed the remaining wood from the site.

At lunchtime yesterday, more than 200 officers closed off parts of the Newtownards Road to clear a second bonfire at Cluan Place.

Contractors, again with faces hidden and in unmarked vehicles, removed wood and tyres that had been stacked in the centre of the road in preparation for the Eleventh night celebrations.

The fire was build dangerously close to a listed former Ulster Bank building dating back to 1908.

Large crowds of people gathered in the streets to watch as the bonfire was toppled with a forklift and lifted, load by load, into the back of a flat bed lorry.

There was anger that residents of Cluan Place were pinned into their homes for the duration of the operation which took several hours.

At one stage a loud bang was heard causing panic among local people.

Residents of the nearby Short Strand say a blast bomb was thrown over the interface and last night police confirmed that "the remnants of what is believed to be a viable pipe bomb type device have been found in Clandeboye Drive."

Mum of four Louise McCann told Q Radio her children were lucky to be alive after a device was thrown into Clandeboye Drive area in an area they had been playing just minutes before; "two second later they would have been killed on me", she said.

Belfast city council later said rumours that wood would be removed at other sites were completely unfounded.

In 2015 more than 50 homes close to the Walkway bonfire were boarded up to protect them from the heat generated when it was lit.

The site of the bonfire had been moved in the last two years amid community concern about its proximity to houses.

There were later reports that loyalist unrest had spread to North Down, with burning tyres thrown onto the Belfast to Bangor Road and close to theWhitehill estate in Bangor causing traffic disruption for a period.

Shortly after 8pm there were reports of a bus on fire in the West Winds estate in Newtownards.

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