16 September 2005

Reprisal fears over blockades

Belfast Telegraph

Police warned not to remove women or kids

By Deborah McAleese
newsdesk@belfasttelegraph.co.uk
16 September 2005

POLICE refused to remove women and child protesters blocking roads across Belfast yesterday because of fears of retaliatory loyalist attacks.

Although they moved in to keep some of the city's main routes clear officers refrained from moving child and women protesters in light of intelligence information that loyalist paramilitaries were prepared to attack.

Police chiefs yesterday said they did not want to inflame the situation.

However, they still came under attack in north Belfast last night when 150 rioters hurled petrol bombs, bricks and bottles in the Forthriver Road area. Water cannons were deployed to bring the mob under control.

Traffic chaos was further aggravated when gangs again hijacked and torched vehicles.

As several vehicles were set alight in the north and west of the city, riot police dramatically rescued the driver of a Tennent's beer lorry and his cargo which rioters were trying to loot and use as a burning barricade on West Circular Road.

A convoy of police vehicles escorted the driver and vehicle to safety.

Police went on the offensive over the illegal protests for the first time yesterday, following four days of misery for motorists and public transport users.

Four men were arrested during a protest at the Knock Road, near PSNI headquarters, just hours after Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland confirmed an operation had been put in place to keep open the main arterial routes at Broadway, the Westlink and the Crumlin Road at the Mater Hospital.

Mr McCausland said community leaders should exercise their influence to end the protests.

He added: "We have always said we would be proactive in dealing with this activity on Belfast's streets.

"Gathering evidence and reporting people for prosecution, as we have been doing, is a graduated response to dealing with peaceful but illegal protests, mainly involving women and children.

"As these protests have not ceased, officers are taking further action to ensure that main routes, especially those near major hospitals, will be kept open."

For the third evening, Translink has been forced to cancel some of its bus services due to "community unrest".

There was still no indication last night as to how long loyalists were planning to continue their protests.

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