The PSNI says that rioting in the New Lodge area of Belfast in which three police officers were injured was probably orchestrated by “violent dissident republicans”.
Three officers were injured after a crowd attacked police at the site of an anti-internment bonfire at New Lodge in north Belfast on Thursday.
More than 150 officers were deployed to the area but police later withdrew, fearing the risk to innocent bystanders.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said last night: “I regrettably have had to take a decision today that the risks of continuing an operation to remove a bonfire were outweighed by the risks that operation would then pose to the wider community, the women and children, and others there present.
“I have an objective to support our partners to clear a bonfire site in support of the local community’s wishes, but I also have a legal obligation to minimise any resort to use of force by police and to minimise the risks of so doing to public safety.”
The BBC reported the assistant chief constable as saying it was “a matter of regret that we weren’t successful in the objective of the operation”, but that it was “nonetheless a responsible, professional policing decision taken within the law and taken with very little room for other decisions to be made”.
He said although he did not regard the move “as a successful outcome”, it was made “in interests of the wider public safety, rather than continuing with an operation which might be seen to use force merely to prove a point and not achieve an objective”.
ACC Todd said those attacking police were mostly youths who were being manipulated by older people, “probably related to violent dissident republican groupings”.
He added: “We will be reviewing CCTV footage to identify those who have been involved in the disorder, who can expect to be the subject of further police investigation and action.”
The bonfire was lit late on Thursday night.