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Gunfire exchanged in Belfast

Ardoyne file
The Ardoyne has long been a scene of confrontation  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Gun battles erupted on the streets of north Belfast overnight as sectarian tensions once again erupted in the riot-ravaged area.

Two separate shooting incidents were reported in the Ardoyne district, scene of nightly clashes between rival loyalist and republican factions.

Police have also confirmed up to 12 shots were fired into the loyalist Tiger's Bay area of north Belfast. No one was injured.

"Police returned four shots after a burst of automatic gunfire was directed at their lines," a police spokesman said.

Youths set a hijacked bus ablaze in the city before the shooting, which was part of a surge of nightly violence.

Around 30 primed petrol bombs and almost 200 bottles were seized by officers during planned raids on both loyalist and nationalist areas of north Belfast, the RUC said.

Rioting has involved rival pro-Irish Roman Catholic nationalists and pro-British Protestant "loyalists." British security forces have been targeted by both sides.

Earlier on Saturday Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid warned people living in the area not to be manipulated by elements plotting to wreck the peace process.

Emerging from a meeting with a Sinn Fein delegation to discuss the ongoing violence, he said: "I would urge those in the communities which are afflicted by that not to allow themselves to be used by those who have a wider purpose which is to destroy the political process."

The British and Irish governments give feuding political parties an anxiously-awaited blueprint for rescuing the Agreement next week.

After the meeting Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey outlined how he had told Dr Reid he was convinced loyalist paramilitaries had returned to hostilities.

"Many of the loyalist ceasefires have indeed broken down," the Northern Ireland Assembly member for West Belfast claimed.

"You cannot have individuals within the loyalist community for example, running around making pipe bombs and blast bombs to the extent that has been happening.

"Therefore there is a clear evidence that the UDA in particular, but not exclusively, have been involved in this pogrom against our community."

But one of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party representatives in the area accused the IRA of attacking outnumbered loyalists in the area.

"What is significant is that these things are happening at vulnerable points for the Protestant community," said North Belfast councillor Nelson McCausland.

• Good Friday Agreement
• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Northern Ireland Office
• British Prime Minister
• Irish Prime Minister

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