Violence as police move in on New Lodge bonfire
Violence has flared this morning ahead of an anti-internment bonfire in north Belfast.
Police surrounded the controversial pyre in New Lodge, which is due to be lit tonight, as two youths on top of the bonfire refused to come down.
Fireworks and bottles were thrown at police as the stand-off escalated.
PSNI officers in riot gear and armoured vehicles have since arrived at the scene.
Local youths are set to torch dozens of pallets to mark the 48th anniversary of the introduction of internment in 1971.
In recent days menacing graffiti has been daubed on a family centre while “contractors beware” has also been scrawled on local walls.
Graffiti threatening Sinn Féin councilor JJ Magee has also appeared.
It has also emerged that a Housing Executive maintenance team was told to leave the New Lodge area last week.
A spokesman said that as a precaution the executive “suspended some of our maintenance services for a short period whilst we sought reassurance about the safety of our staff and contractors in the area”.
Sinn Féin MLA Caral Ni Chuilin last night called for the removal of the bonfire.
She said the bonfire "isn't wanted" and should be removed, and "all the criminal behaviour needs dealt with".
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said people in the New Lodge do not want the bonfire.
"If there are threats made towards anybody, the job of police is to keep people safe, to ensure that these threats are investigated and also people are being protected, particularly buildings which are an important resource to the New Lodge, there's a family centre there," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.
"There are serious concerns around the level of threat here, serious concerns in terms of the level of criminality, and when that happens no one can deal with that, only the police.
"I will be speaking to police today to see what they plan on doing."
PSNI Chief Inspector Kelly Moore said police are investigating the graffiti.
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said it “will endeavour to remove the contentious graffiti as soon as practicably possible”.
Meanwhile, The Department for Infrastructure has criticised the bonfire.
"The use of a public road in New Lodge for the construction of a bonfire and the threatening graffiti are both completely unacceptable,” it said.
"The department will continue to work with its statutory partners to identify the best way of supporting the local community and ensuring the safety of road users, staff and contractors."
The latest bonfire controversy comes weeks after Belfast City Council voted to remove an ‘Eleventh Night’ pyre in the car park of Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast.
However, no action was taken after graffiti appeared threatening the contractors tasked with removing the bonfire.