Attacks on police at republican bonfire site in condemned as 'disgraceful'

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Picture of internment bonfire material removed from west Belfast by Alan Lewis

By Rebecca Black, PA

An attack on police at an internment bonfire site in West Belfast which left at least 26 officers injured has been slammed as "disgraceful".

Police came under attack at Distillery Street with petrol bombs and other missiles as they facilitated the removal of a bonfire pyre.

First Minister Arlene Foster slammed the "disgraceful scenes" and called for prosecutions.

"Our thoughts are with the injured officers. Disgraceful scenes. Important to see prosecutions in due course. A message must be sent that this is not acceptable," Mrs Foster tweeted.

Superintendent Melanie Jones said officers tasked to Distillery Street came under "sustained attack" by a large crowd of youths.

She said: "At this point we can confirm that at least 26 officers have sustained injuries and are currently receiving treatment.

"Footage from evidence-gathering cameras will be reviewed and all efforts will be made to identify those involved in the completely unacceptable violence we have seen here today.

"We will continue to work with the local community, representatives and other partners to address this issue, but it is disappointing that some young people and their guardians are not listening to our repeated warnings.

"People who choose to engage in criminal and anti-social behaviour must understand it is unacceptable and must stop. People have a right to live in peace and to feel safe in their communities."

Ms Jones urged parents and guardians to keep young people safe by knowing where they are going and who they are with.

"Young people must understand the dangers of getting involved in behaviour which could result in them injuring themselves or others, or ultimately, ending up with a criminal record," she added.

Justice Minister Naomi Long and the Police Federation have criticised the attacks on officers.

The Police Federation tweeted: "It is disgraceful that officers going about their work and serving communities should be targeted like this. 26 officers were injured in sustained petrol bomb & masonry attacks - a terrible tally. Our thoughts are with them and other colleagues."

Ms Long responded: "Absolutely disgraceful conduct. Officers should not face this kind of violence as they try to keep people safe. Residents are sick of this nonsense every year - they want peace and quiet I hope that no-one was seriously injured and that they all make a full and speedy recovery."

Previous years have seen bonfires lit in Belfast to mark the anniversary of internment without trial on August 9, 1971. This controversial policy saw thousands of mostly nationalists detained.

Last year a standoff developed between young people and police in the New Lodge area of North Belfast

This weekend, police moved into a number of areas of Belfast to facilitate workers removing wood gathered for bonfires, while community talks prevented other pyres being built.

A PSNI spokeswoman said officers are assisting other agencies.

"As a police service we have been clear in our position that we will always support other agencies to carry out their statutory functions and this includes the lawful removal of bonfire materials," she said.

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