- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BELFAST, Northern Ireland | Northern Ireland leaders condemned Irish nationalist rioters Tuesday who wounded 82 police officers during two nights of street clashes sparked by the province’s annual parades by the British Protestant majority.

While most of the injured officers suffered only cuts and bruises, others suffered burns and broken hands. Two remained hospitalized: a policeman wounded in the chest and arms by a shotgun blast, and a policewoman who had a paving stone dropped on her head from a shop’s rooftop.

The violence in working-class Catholic parts of Belfast and other towns came both before and after tens of thousands of Protestants of the Orange Order brotherhood marched at 18 locations across Northern Ireland in an annual show of communal strength. It was the worst rioting in Belfast since the same event exactly one year ago.

Politicians and police commanders said the rioters, influenced by Irish Republican Army dissidents opposed to compromise, were chiefly motivated to attack the police themselves. IRA dissidents have focused in recent months on trying to lure police into ambushes, until now with little success.

The Northern Ireland police commander, Chief Constable Matt Baggott, released video of Monday’s rioting in two parts of Belfast captured by surveillance helicopters. The footage showed hundreds of masked teens and young men swarming and pummeling police armored vehicles and swinging clubs at ranks of shield-wielding police while the officers stood their ground or retreated slowly.

Chief Baggott defended his force’s decision not to attempt to arrest rioters because it would be too dangerous for officers and rioters alike. But he said extensive video evidence would be analyzed to try to identify the face of each rioter, many of whom hid behind hoods and scarves — among them children as young as 8.

He said the money being spent on police overtime, medical care, destroyed equipment and property was a multimillion euro waste that Northern Ireland couldn’t afford.

“The cost of policing last night — is the equivalent of a new ward in a hospital, the equivalent of a new primary school,” he told reporters at his Belfast headquarters.

Chief Baggott’s Belfast deputy, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay, criticized the leaders of Northern Ireland’s three-year-old government for failing to resolve parade-related confrontations.

Assistant Chief Finlay said the Protestant first minister, Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson, and his Catholic deputy, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, both have failed to show any public leadership during or after the riots.

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