Dissident republicans have been blamed for a series of arson attacks that destroyed major retail premises in Co Down today.

Security chiefs are investigating the possibility some sort of incendiary devices started the fires which swept through shops in Newry in the early hours.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the introduction of internment - once one of the most emotive dates in the republican calendar - when hundreds of men were arrested in nationalist areas and detained without being formally charged.

Damage is expected to run into tens of millions.

Sinn Féin and Ulster Unionist representatives said republicans opposed to the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were likely to have been involved.

Homes were evacuated as fire swept through Carpetright and MFI stores in the city's Damolly Park area.

At the same time a JJB sports shop was gutted in a blaze over 1km away on Merchants Quay.

A nearby TK Maxx store suffered heat damage.

Nearly 150 firefighters and 26 fire appliances were brought in during the emergency.