New violence on Belfast streets

Fresh trouble broke out in Belfast today after police launched a series of raids in the loyalist north of the city.

Fresh trouble broke out in Belfast today after police launched a series of raids in the loyalist north of the city.

A car was hijacked, set on fire and left blocking the Crumlin Road and a van was hijacked and burned on the Ballygomartin Road, said police.

The hijackings came as police searched a number of houses in the Highfield area in the hunt for those behind the street violence of recent days.

One person was arrested, said a police spokeswoman.

Highfield is where the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) 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.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey met Northern Secretary Peter Hain at Stormont to discuss the violence and urged him to get out on the streets of the city to gauge loyalists’ feelings.

Empey said: “There is no point in confining his meetings to opinion-formers or the great and the good of this country.

“He has to get out on the ground and see for himself and we have made specific invitations to him today to do so.”

Mr Hain should have engaged directly with the communities at an earlier stage, said Mr Empey.

“He must listen to their concerns and enter into dialogue with opinion-formers at a grass roots level.

"He must understand that the sense of alienation felt by ordinary unionists is profound,” he added.

He said he also raised unionist concerns over the “dangerous political vacuum” and the plans of the British and US governments to hold a policing conference early in the new year.

Unionists fear the conference is the forerunner to fresh policing reforms - despite denials from both governments.

Mr Hain was also meeting Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley and Alliance leader David Ford.

Meanwhile, loyalist protesters picketed the headquarters of the Policing Board in Belfast to show their opposition to the PSNI 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.

But Chief Constable Hugh Orde was briefing Policing Board members on the weekend violence during the afternoon.

When protesters realised they had turned up too early, they left, saying they would return later.

The SDLP branded continuing 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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