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Dozens of police hurt in Northern Ireland sectarian clashes

Peter Morrison / AP

Masked loyalists gather before attacking police in North Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sunday.

Police in Northern Ireland fired plastic bullets and water cannon on rioters late on Monday in a second night of sectarian clashes between Catholics and Protestants that have injured dozens of police officers.

Police fired controversial plastic rounds for the first time during the disturbances after protesters threw Molotov cocktails, fireworks, bricks and stones at officers trying to separate rival groups in north Belfast.

Rioters from the Protestant group hijacked a van at one point and pushed it at police lines. At least three of the injured officers were taken to a hospital.

Riots often erupt during the summer months when Protestant groups hold traditional parades that are seen as provocative by nationalists, who want to be part of a united Ireland, and Catholics.

The second night of disturbances over the last week followed a parade by Catholic Irish nationalists in an area where Protestant groups were recently barred from marching.

At least 47 officers were hurt in clashes on Sunday in the dispute over the rights of the two communities to hold parades in the area. As many as nine were reportedly injured on Monday night.

The Queen is making a historic visit to Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour. She arrived in Enniskillen, the scene of one of the worst atrocities of The Troubles, and meet the Stormont deputy first minister, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, in a gesture which will herald another milestone in Anglo-Irish relations. ITN's Martha Fairlie reports.

Over the weekend, seven police officers were hurt in the same area when a Protestant band marched past a Catholic church playing music in defiance of a ban from the parades commission, which regulates marches in the province.

Photos: Riots erupt in Northern Ireland

Paramilitary violence between the province's mainly Catholic republicans and pro-British Protestants, which raged on and off for three decades, has largely ended since a peace agreement was signed in 1998, but much of Belfast remains socially divided along sectarian lines.

The head of the Northern Ireland Police Federation, Terry Spence, praised the officers on the front lines. 

Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the Irish Republican Army met with Queen Elizabeth in Northern Ireland. It was a historic moment decades after the IRA led a bloody fight against British rule. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

"Their bravery and courage is in stark contrast to that of the cowardly thugs responsible for trying to murder them," he said, according to BBC News

Alban Maginness of the predominantly Catholic and moderate nationalist political party S.D.L.P., claimed that the riots were not spontaneous, the BBC reported.

Violence flared for a second night running in Northern Ireland as Catholic youths clashed with police following Protestant parades. NBC's Yuka Tachibana reports.

"The bulk of the violence over the past two days has, I believe, been sustained by loyalist paramilitaries," the BBC quoted him as saying. "I think this is an attempt to intimidate the lawful authorities."

Police had blamed loyalists for the weekend's violence at a republican march, the BBC reported, adding that up to 350 loyalists had rioted. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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