Outrage after New Lodge bonfire protests turn violent
POLITICIANS voiced anger yesterday after a 10-hour protest turned violent, forcing police to withdraw from a New Lodge bonfire.
Tensions in the area were high last night as a spokesman for the ambulance service confirmed that two men had been stabbed in separate incidents and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
A third man was struck by a crossbow and also stabbed but refused hospital treatment.
A teenager who stood at the top of the north Belfast pyre defended his actions despite condemnation from politicians.
Police blamed dissident republicans for orchestrating violence.
Bricks and bottles had been hurled at police and one officer fell to the ground after being hit by a missile.
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Three police officers were injured, six petrol bombs were recovered and a 13-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of riotous and disorderly behaviour.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said he regretted that 150 officers had to leave the area at 3pm but he had to consider the safety of residents and innocent bystanders.
Speaking after police withdrew yesterday north Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: “This is a disgraceful situation because residents include people who are already vulnerable, some of whom have disabilities and other health related problems.
“Sinn Féin has been talking to the statutory agencies and residents over a period of weeks and we will continue to do so in the time ahead to ensure the community is kept informed and measures are put in place to ensure there is never any repeat of this intimidation.”
Mr Kelly said the “vast majority of the community have told us they do not want this bonfire.
“It has been built by anti-social elements, who torture this district throughout the year and many of whom are well known.”
Speaking to The Irish News last night the teenager who staged the protest said he helped “build the bonfire because the New Lodge did have a lot of people ripped from their homes” during internment.
“I feel they have to be commemorated,” he said.
Earlier, the residents of around 100 flats in two New Lodge blocks were advised to evacuate their homes due to the bonfire.
The Housing Executive said it could not guarantee residents’ safety and advised people to evacuate Oisin and Fianna towers.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor described as “despicable and sickening” a republican bonfire in Newry which had messages about Willie Frazer, David Black and Stephen Carroll.