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Police: Republicans shot photographer in Belfast

From Peter Taggert, For CNN
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Hundreds of rioters descend on Belfast
  • Pro-Ireland Catholic republicans opened fire in rioting in Northern Ireland, police say
  • Rioters and police clashed for two nights in a row in tense neighborhoods
  • Reporters retreat from the area after the photographer is shot
  • Northern Ireland has seen a resurgence of violence in recent months

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Dissident republicans were responsible for the shooting of a newspaper photographer during riots in Belfast Tuesday night, police said Wednesday.

Police clashed with hundreds of rioters in eastern Belfast on Tuesday in the second straight night of violence between Catholics and Protestants there.

About 700 people amassed in the streets Tuesday night, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. Molotov cocktails, fireworks and bricks were thrown, police said.

Police fired water cannons at the crowd and asked the media to move away from the area. They fired at least 66 plastic bullets, they said -- an unusually high number for crowd control in the province.

Two men suffered burns and one man was injured after shots were fired, police reported.

Reporters retreated from the area after a newspaper photographer was shot in the leg.

Violence in Northern Ireland

Police believe the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force was responsible for organizing the riot, they said Wednesday, repeating an accusation they made the day before.

But the shooting Tuesday started with the republicans, they said. The photographer's injuries are not life-threatening, police said.

Loyalists, who tend to be Protestant, want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Republicans, who are usually Catholic, want it to become part of Ireland.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has offered to become personally involved in talks to end the violence, which is taking place in his constituency.

Sectarian rioting began late Monday in eastern Belfast, with leaders from both Catholic and Protestant communities reporting attacks on homes overnight.

Police reported Molotov cocktails were being thrown as a large crowd gathered on the streets that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in the area, a longstanding Northern Ireland flash point. Ambulance services reported two people injured early Tuesday, and reporters attempting to cover the disturbances were threatened.

The Irish republican party Sinn Fein said up to 100 masked men raided Catholic-owned homes in the Short Strand neighborhood after allegations by unionist politicians that Protestant homes were attacked Sunday. Police had no information on any of Sunday's reported attacks.

Sinn Fein blamed the attacks on Catholics on members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group that officially disarmed in 2009. Police had no immediate comment on the assertion.

After a long period of quiet in its ongoing "Troubles" between Catholics and Protestants, Northern Ireland has seen a resurgence of violence in recent months. Tensions also are typically elevated in early summer, when Protestant groups hold commemorative marches to celebrate the 17th century victory of England's King William III over his Catholic predecessor, James II.

"We would appeal to anyone with any influence to continue to work with police to tackle these issues which are damaging for the whole community," Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said Tuesday in a statement. "This is an issue that cannot be addressed by police alone."

Decades of violence between the two sides claimed about 3,000 lives, and were largely brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.