Loyalists held a protest outside the flats

A student living in a loyalist area of Belfast has spoken of her fears amid rising tensions in the area and sectarian threats.

Leaflets calling for Catholics to be put out of their homes, were delivered to homes in the Sandy Row and Donegall Road areas of south Belfast at the weekend.

A loyalist protest was held on Wednesday night outside Whitehall Square flats in Sandy Row, where the young Catholic student lives.

About 200 men, women and children chanted and carried banners saying: "Nationalists out, republicans out."

Anti-republican graffiti was also daubed at the flats after allegations were made about the residents in the area.

The student, whose father bought the flat as an investment, said she felt very intimidated by the protest.

"I've seen the graffiti before, but that's harmless - you don't feel threatened by that. This is the first time ever that I've experienced anything like this. It's quite daunting.

"Tonight, I would not feel happy about going out anywhere near the apartment."

She said it was a shame loyalists in the area could not accept that people from a mix of religions as well as Chinese people lived in the apartment block.

She added: "But that's their beliefs, they don't want us here."

The student, who is moving out, said she did not simply consider herself as a Catholic from the Republic of Ireland.

Homes in the area received leaflets

"I don't consider that that's all I am and that's how people would view me," she said.

"For the first time, I see that other people's opinion of me might be something completely different to how I view myself. That's all they're interested in."

She said her father hoped to sell the apartment, because the area was so unstable, despite being advised that the area would be developed.

"It's inevitable something like this will deter people from wanting to buy in the apartment block," she said.

"It has been shown to estate agents and he has already been told that he'll be lucky to get what he paid for it.

"All the graffiti that you can see from the outside, makes the whole block look very unappealing. It doesn't look like a very nice place to live."

She added: "He didn't realise the implications of buying in the area. He didn't really look into it enough."

Ulster Unionist councillor Bob Stoker caused outrage on Wednesday after he said people living in Sandy Row had been "provoked" by people living in the apartments.

The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell challenged him to withdraw the remarks which he said were "highly irresponsible" and "sheer lunacy".

"People living peacefully in an area cannot be evicted or told to leave on the basis of background."
--Duncan Morrow
Community Relations Council

Police are investigating the origin of the sectarian literature.

The Community Relations Council said it was working with the police and Belfast City Council to resolve the dispute.

However, Chief Executive Duncan Morrow said there was still a "terrible territorialism" in the province, which had recently manifested itself with racist attacks.

Of the loyalist protest, he said: "There's a very big community reaction to something going on."

He added: "Communities, on the one hand, need to be clear that change is going to happen.

"People are going to move into areas, who are not from the background, especially at the moment in south Belfast. That is a very big interface.

"On the other hand, we need to look at whether there's anything that's generating this size of a reaction, where there is a legitimacy on the community side. There must be some fear triggering this.

"It's not that this response, in driving people out, can ever be legitimised."

--Picture of protest courtesy of Irish News

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