Catholic and IRA rioters resumed their onslaught across Northern Ireland on Tuesday, hijacking vehicles and attacking police in retaliation for Britain’s decision to allow Protestant marchers through a Catholic neighborhood.
Automatic gunfire from a multistory Catholic housing project in north Belfast shortly after midnight scattered police and soldiers on the streets below.
No one was hurt, but the gunfire deterred British soldiers from moving in to regain control of streets where masked Irish Republican Army supporters had erected burning barricades.
Youths trying to hit moving police armored cars with gasoline bombs in Catholic west Belfast accidentally struck an 11-year-old onlooker. The Royal Victoria Hospital, already burdened with wounded, said the boy suffered severe burns on his back.
And in southwest Belfast, a Protestant extremist died from a small explosion after apparently mishandling his own pipe bomb.
Police said the victim, whom they did not name, was likely plotting a retaliatory attack on Catholics for the more than a dozen IRA gun-and-grenade attacks on police and British troops since Sunday.
The second night of rioting battered hopes for a new IRA cease-fire and progress in negotiations for a wider peace settlement in Northern Ireland.
More than 100 civilians and police were reported injured in Catholic areas throughout British-ruled province, as rioters hurled more than 1,000 gasoline bombs and riot police responded with at least 2,000 plastic bullets.
About 250 vehicles have been hijacked and burned so far, turning many of the state’s roads into a no-man’s land strewn with riot rubble and the blackened carcasses of vehicles.
Police have arrested more than 50 rioters. Those numbers were certain to rise Tuesday as Catholic fury flowed unabated since Catholic protesters were dragged Sunday from a Protestant parade route through the main Catholic neighborhood in Portadown, southwest of Belfast.
Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam approved the military operation on Portadown’s Garvaghy Road, which forced the neighborhood’s 3,000 residents to stay indoors as more than 100 armored cars and 1,500 riot police and troops deployed.
On Monday, she called it “the least worst option” to enable Orangemen to parade through the area quickly and quietly.
Northern Ireland’s annual “marching season” continues as the Orange Order - the long-dominant Protestant fraternal group - mounts hundreds of parades through the week.
The season climaxes Saturday with the 307th anniversary of Protestant King William of Orange’s defeat of dethroned Catholic King James II.
Bus services were halted Monday throughout Belfast after five buses were hijacked and set aflame as road barricades on the Catholic west side.
Deprived of their supply of buses, rioters stole two trucks after dark then torched them in the middle of Grosvenor Road, within eyesight of a police headquarters.
Orangemen stage more than 2,000 marches each summer - several through or near hostile Catholic turf. Protest groups, usually led by ex-IRA prisoners, began trying to block those marches in 1995 during the IRA’s since-abandoned truce.
Mowlam said she would now try to resolve disputes over planned Orange marches Saturday through a Catholic part of south Belfast and in Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city.
xxxx Bullets are bullets Plastic bullets, 3-1/2-inch-long cylinders that travel at more than 130 mph, are designed to knock down an attacker. But they have killed 17 people in Northern Ireland over the years, most of them children. Human rights groups have called for their banning for years. Plastic bullets are not used to control riots in any part of the U.K. except Northern Ireland.