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elfast bus hijacked by armed men and set on fire after pipe bomb discovered during Eleventh Night disorder
Vehicles were hijacked and torched in Northern Ireland amid violence linked to traditional loyalist bonfires.
Masked men, one carrying a gun, hijacked a bus and set it on fire in Belfast, police said, in one of several incidents unfolding across the city during Eleventh Night disorder.
A suspected pipe bomb also detonated close to a police operation to clear a contentious fire site in Belfast while other security alerts prompted the closure of main roads, with one incident preventing newly-arrived passengers exiting Belfast City Airport.
Masked men also used burning cars to block roads close to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on the outskirts of Belfast.
There is no suggestion all the incidents are linked but the trouble falls on Eleventh Night, an annual Ulster Protestant celebration when bonfires are traditionally lit.
By 1am on Thursday, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) had received a total of 327 emergency calls, mobilised to 164 operational incidents - 57 of which were bonfire-related.
Fire officers said the figures represented a 23% increase on incidents attended last year, with the regional control centre at times handling an emergency 999 call every 48 seconds.
Fire appliances came under attack on three occasions, at Carn Hill in Londonderry, Moygashel near Dungannon and Ballycarry/Whitehead. No firefighters were injured.
While the majority of Eleventh Night fires in Northern Ireland pass off without incident each year, in recent times there have been community tensions in east Belfast over the size of the Bloomfield Walkway and Cluan Place pyres, with many residents fearful of potential damage to their properties.
East Belfast UVF earlier said it "intended to orchestrate serious disorder" against police officers.
The Police Service for Northern Ireland tweeted: "Police are currently in attendance after a bus was set on fire in the Westwinds Estate this evening.
"At around 7.30pm it was reported that a number of masked men, one carrying a suspected firearm, hijacked the bus in Blenheim Drive before setting it on fire."
Police tweeted: "Police remain in Cluan Pl and Clandeboye Dv areas of east Belfast following reports of a loud bang earlier.
"The remnants of what is believed to be viable pipe bomb type device have been found in Clandeboye Dv.
"We ask for patience and support as police work to make area safe."
The explosion was described by a Sinn Féin councillor as "a sectarian attack".
A resident of the street, Louise McCann, said there were children playing in the street who were "hysterical" after the device exploded.
"I actually thought the children were dead, they were hysterical, all of them, the whole place was hysterical," she told the BBC.
"It was the most frightening experience of my whole life."
Tyres in a road in a road in the Newtownards area have been set on fire in another incident police attended.
According to people on Facebook, the fire was right next to a nursing home and residents were evacuated from their beds due to thick, black smoke billowing through the windows.
A video circulating online shows tyres strewn across the entire width of the road, with the raging fire spreading to a nearby traffic light.
"Police are asking motorists to avoid the Messines Road in Newtownards at this time while they deal with a number of burning tyres that are blocking the road," cops tweeted.
Police in Dundonald are dealing with a number of car fires on the Upper Newtownards Road.
Masked men pushed a car into the road and set it on fire, police said, with two further vehicles alight close to nearby Carrowreagh Road.
Dramatic dashcam footage shows billowing smoke rising from the vehicles.
Earlier today, officers received reports of missiles being thrown and a loud bang was apparently heard.
"Police remain in attendance at Cluan Place in support of contractors. Police have received reports that a number of missiles have been thrown in the area and are investigating reports of a loud bang," police said.
"We would ask for your patience and support as police work to make the area safe."
Earlier, they said: "We are currently in Cluan Place supporting contractors who are removing bonfire materials that pose a risk to buildings in the area. The operation is necessary to protect homes and residents, and will be completed as quickly as possible."
Those inside Belfast City Airport were told the 'device' was a 'hoax'.
The disorder comes amid an appeal for calm in east Belfast.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said earlier today: “Police have received Information from the community which indicates that the East Belfast UVF intend to orchestrate and participate in serious disorder in East Belfast this evening directed against my officers.
“I would strongly urge people to desist from engaging in any violent or criminal behaviour. I would also appeal to those who have influence in this community to discourage people from taking part in any illegal activity.
“The safety of the public and my officers is of paramount importance and accordingly I will be reviewing my resourcing plans to ensure there is an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in place to deal with any disorder should it occur.”
Last night, police were forced to close a road due to a 'suspicious object'.
At the time they said: "The Holywood Road in east Belfast has been closed in both directions at its junctions with the Circular Road and Inverary Avenue due to a suspicious object in the area."
In Northern Ireland, the Eleventh Night refers to the night before July 12, a yearly Ulster Protestant celebration.
Hundreds of bonfires are set to be lit at midnight as part of a loyalist tradition to mark the anniversary of the Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Last night in Derry/Londonderry, 70 miles from Belfast, 16 petrol bombs and five paints bombs were thrown and shots fired at police.
In a statement, the Police Service for Northern Ireland said it was a "blatant attempt to murder police officers".
Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said: "For a fourth consecutive night police officers dealt with violence and disorder. Around 16 petrol bombs and five paint bombs were thrown and, in what can only be described as a blatant bid to murder police officers, shots were fired at police close to our city’s walls.
"We believe that around six shots were fired striking the walls and nearby trees, however fortunately none of our officers were injured.
"Police officers should not be targeted under any circumstances and their lives should not be put in danger by simply doing their jobs, attempting to keep people safe.
"I am appealing to those with influence in the area to please assist us in trying to bring this unnecessary and unwanted violence to an end. This isn’t wanted by the community and those involved are urged to cease this activity immediately."
Yesterday, Belfast's High Court issued an order requiring the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to take steps to reduce the height of the bonfire at Bloomfield Walkway.
Police moved into the area at around 5.30am today, but loyalists set it alight before the material could be seized.
The Cluan Place bonfire - also a cause for concern - was cleared later on Wednesday.
The pallet-stacked structure was toppled over and taken away amid fears for people's safety, Irish News reported.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “Unfortunately, as police moved in to secure the site [Bloomfield Walkway] to enable the contractor to safety remove material, people on the site lit the bonfire with total disregard for the safety of the local community and threw missiles at police.
"Colleagues from Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service attended to protect a number of nearby properties.
“We also received reports of a number of vehicles having been set on fire in east Belfast.
“It is disappointing that some people decided to resort to violence as attempts were made to reduce significant threat to the life and property of local people, due to the size and location of this bonfire."