Northern Ireland

PSNI investigate if wounded photographer was 'target'

Police have said they are investigating whether a photographer, who was wounded by a gunshot during rioting in east Belfast was the intended target.

The shooting happened on the lower Newtownards Road-Short Strand area during a second night of sectarian violence near a Catholic enclave.

The photographer was shot in the leg. He is undergoing surgery.

The PSNI confirmed the trouble was orchestrated by the loyalist paramilitary group, the UVF.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said: "It does in our assessment seem to be the east Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that has some influence round about this," he said.

"Whether they have lost the influence to stop it, I don't know, but there certainly seems to be nothing to suggest that our position has changed, that the bulk of this violence is coming from the loyalist community and the UVF in east Belfast does have a role to play in that."

The trouble began at 2045 BST on Tuesday.

A barrage of petrol bombs, missiles and fireworks were thrown at police lines for a second night, in what is being reported as the worst trouble in the area for a decade.

Two other men were injured. They are believed to have suffered burn injuries.

Police fired 66 plastic bullets during the disturbances.

A 20-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon and assaulting police.

Just before midnight, a number of shots were fired and a press photographer was shot in his right leg.

ACC Finlay said it would be a "very strange development" if people were targetting journalists and said it was "more likely" that someone was trying to target police.

"We'll have the opportunity throughout Wednesday to do the analysis in working to investigate what is the attempted murder of the journalist, or indeed whoever was the intended target," he said.

'Orchestrated'

"It would be odd to target a journalist in this particular way, but it would not be odd to target police officers and there were police resources round about where those journalists were standing."

The photographer, who works for a press agency is understood to be in a stable condition in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Another photographer was standing with other media, near police landrovers on the Lower Newtownards Road when the shooting happened.

"I looked back and there was somebody peering over the wall and he shot about five or six rounds," he said.

"We were all just running.

Blood

"The next thing I know a colleague of mine, he yells, 'I've been shot, I've been shot', and I looked back and his leg on the bottom part, I don't know if he was grazed, or if the bullet went in or what, but I looked at his trousers and his trousers were all stained.

"It was wet, it was obviously blood."

The photographer said he had been in contact with his injured colleague.

"He's doing fine," he said.

"I just got a text from him. He's going into surgery this morning. The bullet went in and came out, so it is not life-threatening."

It was initially reported that 700 people were involved in the riots on Tuesday night but police have now said it was between 350 to 400.

The MP for the area, Naomi Long, told the BBC a man who was struck with a brick on Tuesday night had suffered a fractured skull.

She described the trouble as a "very serious situation" and said appeals from political representatives for calm had fallen on "deaf ears".

"People need to step back from this situation," she said.

"We have had another round of gunfire on Tuesday night, we have had someone else injured with a bullet wound.

"When you have guns back on streets, it is very clear that the intent here is to take life.

"There is no other reason why people would bring a gun onto the street, and I think that people need to take a step back and really think about what they are doing."

Safety concerns

There was a large police presence, following Monday's sectarian clashes, and two water cannon vehicles arrived. Roads were closed and police advised motorists to avoid the area.

Map showing the location of the trouble in east Belfast
Map showing the location of the trouble in east Belfast

Police appealed for all media to stay out of east Belfast "for their own safety".

Officers fired a number of plastic baton rounds at rioters.

On Tuesday, a senior police officer described shots aimed at officers during rioting in east Belfast on Monday night as "attempted murder".

Chief Supt Alan McCrum said the trouble had been "orchestrated" by loyalist paramilitary group the UVF.

Two men were treated in hospital for gun shot wounds. A total of 11 shots were fired - six from the nationalist side and five from loyalists.

The PSNI said between 400 to 500 people were involved in the disorder on Monday night.

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