Another night of disturbances on Northern Ireland streets

Protestants attacked police officers with Molotov cocktails and hijacked cars in rioting that ran into early Tuesday, but police and other emergency services said the past three nights of Protestant rage was fading.

"It was very noticeable last night. The tension was greatly reduced," said Chris Kerr, a commander of Belfast's hard-pressed firefighting service, which had crews threatened at gunpoint over the weekend as it tried to douse hundreds of burning cars and buildings.

From 8 p.m. (1900GMT) Monday until 3 a.m. (0200GMT) Tuesday, hundreds of Protestant men and youths continued to menace motorists, block roads with burning vehicles and barrage police units with everything from paint-filled balloons to firecrackers in several parts of Belfast and outlying towns. Parts of Belfast's highway network were closed because youths on overhead pedestrian bridges were trying to drop bricks and boulders on passing cars.

Police said one of its heavily fortified stations on the border between British Protestant and Irish Catholic sections of west Belfast was struck by about 40 gasoline-filled bottles overnight, but suffered only superficial scorching. In street riots nearby, several more police were injured, including one officer who was struck in the head with a brick and knocked unconscious.

In the mostly Protestant suburb of Lisburn, a mob pulled a woman from her car and torched it. Elsewhere, in the east and north of Belfast, police units swooped on rioters as they tried to hijack buses, either arresting or chasing off the gangs. Officers also seized crates of ready-to-use Molotov cocktails and other makeshift weapons before they could be thrown.

Police commander Hugh Orde and the province's British governor, Peter Hain, say members of Northern Ireland's two major outlawed Protestant groups the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association were both involved in attacking police with automatic gunfire and grenades. More than 50 officers have been wounded. Hain is expected to announce punitive actions against both paramilitary groups within days, reports the AP.