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Drunken Mayhem Mars St. Patrick's in Ireland

DUBLIN -- Cars torched, firefighters attacked, police bombarded and neighbors terrified: It's been another fine St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, where inebriated mobs annually turn certain districts of Dublin and Belfast into a St. Patrick's nightmare.

Authorities were counting the cost Wednesday from widely predicted trouble associated with dusk-to-dawn drinking on Ireland's national holiday.

Police in the Republic of Ireland said they were still adding up the number of public-order arrests from Tuesday's festivities but said the total would easily exceed 200. In the British territory of Northern Ireland, the worst trouble was committed by some of its most privileged youth - hundreds of students at Queen's University, the major college in Belfast.

Nineteen teenagers and 20-somethings, mostly Queen's students, were arrested during several hours of street clashes with riot police. Belfast police Superintendent Chris Noble said most were still sobering up Wednesday in their cells, while five were arraigned in court on charges of riotous behavior.

Noble said police expected to arrest more students in coming days after analyzing their surveillance TV footage of the hooliganism.

"We will not abandon an area to drunken thugs. We made it clear they had to disperse or we would take action," he said.

Noble said two officers received medical treatment for wounds after being struck with bottles and rocks. "I suspect many more were injured but managed to carry on with their jobs," he said.

The Irish Republic's police commander, Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, said Ireland suffered one of its most dangerous holiday periods on the roads, partly because of increased levels of drunken driving.

He said since Friday police had arrested 346 suspected drunk drivers and 72 for dangerous driving, while eight people died in crashes, compared to three in the same period last year.

The Dublin Fire Brigade said its officers were pelted with stones, cans and bottles in several public housing projects overnight as they dealt with 46 fires, mostly smashed-up cars that had been set ablaze.

Ambulance crews dealing with more than 200 emergency calls - including a dozen stabbings involving knives or broken bottles - said they also suffered physical and verbal abuse as they responded to booze-fueled bloodshed.

Firefighters and paramedics said they suffered minor bruises and scrapes but no serious injuries.

Officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland donned full riot gear, including flame-retardant suits and visored helmets, to drive about 1,000 students pack into their rented red-brick homes in a neighborhood called the Holy Land directly beside Queen's University.

The area - so named because it has streets named Jerusalem, Damascus and Cairo - has suffered St. Patrick's riots for several years running, but older residents and politicians agreed this year's was by far the worst and made them prisoners in their own homes.

Leaders from the British Protestant and Irish Catholic sides of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government demanded that Queen's expel students at the center of the trouble. Until now university authorities have issued warnings or fines to students but permitted them to continue their studies.

"I toured the area myself last night and was absolutely disgusted. The place was like a war zone. It was an atmosphere of intimidation and mayhem," said Protestant politician Reg Empey, minister for higher education in the power-sharing government.

He said the students - whose tuition and living expenses are heavily subsidized by British taxpayers - were "behaving as though they're only going to get a slap on the wrist.

Throw some of them out of the university and it might sober some of the rest of them up."

The area's senior Catholic politician, Alasdair McDonnell, said university authorities "must take a very harsh line with the students involved. The way they treat the people who try to live side by side with them is outrageous and cannot be tolerated."


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