Police swoop in hunt for violent loyalists

Police launched a series of raids in loyalist north Belfast today as they hunted those behind the street violence of recent days.

Police launched a series of raids in loyalist north Belfast today as they hunted those behind the street violence of recent days.

A number of houses in the Highfield area were searched and one person arrested, said a police spokeswoman.

Highfield is where the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it discovered a bomb-making factory at the weekend.

It is also the home district of a man who appeared in court following the violence charged with possession of seven guns and bomb-making equipment.

Loyalists protesters today picketed the headquarters of the Policing Board in Belfast to show their opposition to the police handling of the violence which erupted after an Orange Order parade on Saturday.

Armed with banners declaring “British Citizens Demand British Rights”, around 50 women and a handful of men staged the protest.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde is due to brief the Policing Board members on the weekend violence this afternoon.

When protesters realised they had turned up too early they said they would go away and return later.

The loyalist violence took centre stage at a series of meetings between Northern Secretary Peter Hain and local political parties at Stormont.

Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said he was also focused on the political vacuum and plans of the British and United States governments to hold a special conference on policing next year.

Unionists fear the conference could herald fresh policing reforms.

Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley and Alliance leader David Ford were also meeting Mr Hain for discussions on the violence.

The SDLP branded the attempts by the Orange Order to absolve themselves of blame for the violence as a farce.

Party vice-chairman Eddie Espie said: “If the weekend was tragedy, yesterday’s press conference was pure farce.

“Sensible people reject the Orangemen’s disgraceful claims because their infantile accusations fly in the face of facts on the ground.”

Mr Espie said Orangemen had been seen using threatening behaviour, and “picking up rocks and throwing them, associating with masked paramilitaries and standing shoulder to shoulder with petrol and blast bombers”.

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