Police Chief Inspector Neil Beck said Wednesday that six shots were fired in "a blatant bid to murder police officers," during unrest in Northern Ireland's second city, known to some as Derry and officially called Londonderry, overnight.
Groups of youths also lobbed more than a dozen petrol bombs from the Catholic-dominated Bogside area towards a Protestant neighborhood, police said.
"For a fourth consecutive night police officers dealt with violence and disorder," Beck said. No officers were reported injured.
The night's events signal an uptick in violence ahead of a major July 12 parade staged annually by Pro-British Protestants to celebrate victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Many Catholics, however, see the marches as provocations.
Decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland — between mostly Protestant loyalists who want to remain part of the UK and mostly Catholic republicans who want to be part of a united Ireland — were largely halted with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But persisting tensions between Protestant and Catholic communities still flare periodically.
In a rare joint statement on Wednesday, Northern Ireland's main Catholic and Protestant parties said "there must be a strong, clear and united voice against those who would engage in such disgraceful violence."
"As a society we must all stand with those who maintain law and order and who protect all sides of our community," the statement, co-signed by all the major Northern Irish parties, said.
nm/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)