Police attend Belfast bonfire as contractors tasked with removing it

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By Rebecca Black PA

Police have blocked off a bonfire in a nationalist area of north Belfast.

A small crowd has gathered close to the pyre at the New Lodge housing estate.

Dozens of police vehicles and officers wearing riot gear are at the scene where minor and sporadic disturbances have taken place.

The bonfire is built on land owned by Northern Ireland's Department for Infrastructure.

It was due to be lit on Thursday night to mark the anniversary of the introduction of the controversial policy of internment without trial in 1971.

A PSNI spokesman said in a statement that officers are in attendance at the scene at Queens Parade to support contractors who have been tasked by the landowner to remove a bonfire from the road.

"We are endeavouring to support the contractors to complete this task in a timely manner, with minimum disruption to the community," he said.

"We would ask for the community's patience and support as the area is made safe.

"We will not be making any further comment at this time as this is an ongoing operation."

Earlier this week, politicians from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP said the people who live in the area do not want the bonfire.

Sinister graffiti appeared close to the pyre on Tuesday, threatening that if the structure is removed then a nearby community centre will be targeted.

The graffiti is also set to be removed by council workers.

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said it would "endeavour to remove the contentious graffiti as soon as practicably possible".

Operation Demetrius in 1971 saw hundreds arrested across the region on suspicion of being involved with paramilitary groups.

The vast majority arrested were nationalists, although a significant number of them had no connection with the IRA.

The anniversary has traditionally been marked by many from the nationalist and republican tradition with bonfires, although recent years have seen a move away from pyres towards community-based diversionary activities.

Some young people tried to push through lines of riot police but were repelled.

Earlier, a small number of bottles and pieces of wood had been thrown at officers.

The New Lodge is a mainly nationalist area dominated by decades-old public housing blocks.

The bonfire is made of wooden pallets and has an Irish tricolour flag on top.

Police vehicles have entirely blocked off the site of the bonfire on a grassy area beside the residential towers.

Officers are using a camera on top of one vehicle to gather evidence.

One officer was helped from a vehicle and driven away following the scuffles.

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