The Ulster Volunteer Force has been blamed for the escalating violence in Belfast after a second night of rioting in the east of the city.
A press photographer is recovering in hospital after he was shot in the leg during disturbances in the Short Strand on Tuesday night.
Police chiefs have accused the UVF of ‘attempted murder’ after what they described as the most serious street violence seen in East Belfast for years.
Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum from the Police Service of Northern Ireland has claimed the UVF is behind the latest outbreak of violence despite the fact that it is on ceasefire.
He has accused UVF leaders of orchestrating the riots that saw 11 shots fired at police on Tuesday night, one of which hit the Press Association photographer.
Tensions are high after up to 700 unionists and nationalists clashed in the Short Strand area of the city with bricks and bottles thrown repeatedly.
Chief Supt McCrum said the violence started when loyalists from nearby areas moved in on the Short Strand area.
“That precipitated a response from the community in the Short Strand, and then we were left with two communities who, for the next four hours, were seeking to involve themselves in conflict across what was, and continues to be, a very challenging interface in the city” he told the Irish Times.
“We are satisfied that at the very least members of east Belfast UVF were involved in organizing the disorder.
“We had additional resources in the Short Strand on Monday night, but no one could have anticipated the scale of the disorder that took place.
“No one could have anticipated that hundreds of people would be on the street and that petrol bombs, blast bombs, sticks and bottles would be thrown over four to five hours.”
Sinn Féin Assembly Member Alex Maskey also blamed the UVF for the disturbances. He said: “The activities of the UVF in east Belfast have been giving people cause for concern for some time.
“These have been well documented in the media by a variety of commentators. There has been a marked increase in UVF flag-flying, the painting of new paramilitary murals and significant agitation around loyal order parades. This has caused deep unease within both communities in east Belfast.
“The PSNI could have responded better to the trouble when it erupted. Let us act now to make sure UVF actions are not allowed to set the agenda for the summer months in the city of Belfast.”
Northern Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Alliance leader David Ford branded the violent scenes a ‘disgrace’.
The Irish Times reports that rumors are circulating that the trouble followed growing unease within loyalist communities in east Belfast.
The paper claims that reports centre on investigations mounted by the Historical Enquiries Team, a specialist unit which is separate from the PSNI but reports to the chief constable on unsolved murders from the Troubles.
Local people fear rumors that a supergrass has been identified.
Progressive Unionist member Jim Wilson claimed: “Loyalism feels outside the peace process because we have been pushed outside the process.
“Nobody is trying to bring us in. We were part and parcel of what’s happening up at Stormont but it’s still a cold house for loyalism.”
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