New clashes erupt in flag protests

Around a thousand loyalist protesters picketed Belfast City Hall tonight over the Union flag row as violent disturbances again broke out elsewhere in Northern Ireland’s capital.

New clashes erupt in flag protests

Around a thousand loyalist protesters picketed Belfast City Hall tonight over the Union flag row as violent disturbances again broke out elsewhere in Northern Ireland’s capital.

The demonstration at the civic building in the city centre was held as Belfast City Council met for the first time since its controversial decision to limit the flying of the flag on the roof.

While the protest at City Hall passed off without incident, trouble flared again in the east of the city – the fifth night in succession that the area has been blighted by disorder.

Police were attacked by rioters throwing heavy masonry as they tried to separate rival factions at a flashpoint between loyalist and republican areas on the Newtownards Road. Water cannon was deployed in a bid to restore order.

Earlier Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott claimed senior members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) were orchestrating the street violence in east Belfast.

Loyalist protests have been continuing across Northern Ireland since early December in response to the decision by Belfast councillors to only fly the flag above City Hall on designated days instead of all year round.

The first of these days is this Wednesday, when the flag will be raised to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.

More than 60 police officers have been injured in flag-related unrest in the last five weeks, with around 100 people arrested.

Mr Baggott said while UVF members were involved in the east Belfast rioting there was no evidence that the organisation’s leadership endorsed their actions.

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