Northern Ireland

East Belfast: Nail salon set on fire in 'racist hate crime'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAsta's Glam Factory, on the corner of Castlereagh Street and Clandeboye Street, was attacked overnight

A rally has been held in support of a Lithuanian woman, whose east Belfast nail salon was set alight by arsonists.

Police are treating the attack at Asta's Glam Factory, on Castlereagh Street, as a racially-motivated hate crime.

About 100 people attended the rally in protest at the incident, which happened early on Tuesday.

The salon's owner said she appreciated the support that people had shown.

"Everything I met so far was really, really nice and I never expected anything like this to happen to me," Asta Samaliute said.

"If anyone ever asked me if I would ever go home, I always said 'no this is my home, I made this my home', so I always imagined staying here.

"To be honest, last night when I got the police phone call, I didn't feel like I want to live here, but today my mind has changed completely .

"People are being so, so supportive and I'm just so blessed to have such nice people round me."

Thousands of pounds have been donated to a fund to help her reopen the salon.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAsta Samaliute said she'd been heartened by the community response

Police received a report that a gang of men forced up the shutters shortly before midnight, poured accelerant on the premises and set it alight.

It follows a series of recent attacks on foreign nationals in Belfast.

Three fire crews were called to deal with the fire at the nail salon and the blaze was extinguished by 01:00 BST.

Police said no-one was in the salon at the time but the building has been extensively damaged by fire and smoke.

Image caption A rally was held in east Belfast on Tuesday evening

A regular customer at the salon, who did not want to be identified, said she could not believe it had been attacked.

"I'm absolutely gutted for her [the owner], because she's worked really hard for her business," she said.

"She actually had a business across the road for two years and never had any problems.

"Her shop's absolutely gorgeous and I just can't believe that someone would do this."

Det Insp Jenna Fitzpatrick said police believed that the gang may have fled the scene in a black 4 x 4 vehicle.

She appealed for anyone who had information about the attack to contact officers on the non-emergency number 101.

On Sunday, Northern Ireland's Honorary Polish Consul Jerome Mullen called on Stormont's first and deputy first ministers to take action after a series of racially-motivated attacks on Polish homes in north Belfast.

More on this story