Police in Northern Ireland are on high alert ahead of the annual July 12th Orange Order marches after fresh rioting in Belfast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Officials at the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have confirmed that 20 officers were injured, four of them hospitalized, as serious rioting broke out across West Belfast.
Gangs of nationalist youths fired over 40 petrol bombs and bombarded police with masonry as the trouble escalated ahead of Tuesday’s marches.
Officers in riot gear fired 51 plastic baton rounds and deployed a water cannon in the Broadway and Oldpark areas of Belfast after they came under attack.
Reports that gunshots were fired by the rioters are also under investigation as police brace themselves for further trouble at the height of the loyalist marching season.
Emergency services responded to one call every 75 seconds at the height of the disturbances in the greater Belfast area. They received a total of 180 fire calls over a seven-hour period, representing a 65% increase on last year. Fire crews came under attack from stone throwers in the West of the city but escaped injury.
Over 60,000 Orangemen are expected to take part in the annual 12th of July marches across 18 venues in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
The majority of the Orange Order marches are expected to pass off peacefully.
But police have mounted a major security operation in North Belfast where a parade passes close to the republican Ardoyne area.
The area was the scene for a hoax bomb warning late on Monday night when residents were evacuated as a precaution.