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A burning barricade on the Newtownards Road area of Belfast last night Paul Faith/PA Wire

Belfast violence is being "orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries"

The head of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland said loyalist paramilitaries have hijacked the flags protests and are using “any excuse” to attack the police.

SERIOUS VIOLENCE IN Northern Ireland over the flying of the Union flag is being orchestrated by loyalist paramilitary organisations, the head of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland has said.

Terry Spence made the claims as PSNI officers came under sustained attack from a crowd of protesters in Belfast for the third successive day on Saturday.

A crowd of more than one hundred people attacked police for almost four hours around the Newtownards Road area of east Belfast using fireworks, golf balls and masonry as weapons.  One police officer sustained injuries in the disorder but did not require hospital treatment.

Police are also investigating claims that shots were fired at police during the disturbance. A 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Nine people were arrested on public order offences and appeared before a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates Court last night.

Paramilitary group “holding the community to ransom”

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live last night, Terry Spence of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, which represents PSNI officers, said that a loyalist paramilitary group had “hijacked” the flags issue and were using “any excuse” to attack the police.

“[I have] absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this violence is being orchestrated by loyalist paramilitary organisations, and primarily by the UVF,” he said.

This paramilitary group have been holding the local community to ransom.

The protests have been ongoing since 2 December when Belfast City Council voted to change the number of days the Union flag flies over the council building from 365 days per year to fifteen.

A motion had initially been put forward which would have seen the Union flag removed completely from the Council building but the compromise motion of 15 days was put forward by the Alliance Party.

Since then there have been flashpoint protests across Northern Ireland and an increased number of security alerts. Police are treating a viable device which was found under the car of a police officer one week ago as attempted murder.

“Illegal protests have no legitimacy”

SDLP policing spokesperson Conall McDevitt said the protests are illegal and have no legitimacy.

“Whatever grievance some people may have had, it [is] totally lost when they allow people to use these protests as cover for attempted murder,” he said.

“There is only one response possible – and that’s a firm policing response against everyone involved in illegal protests and anyone seeking to organise or encourage illegal or violent demonstrations”.

(All photos:  Paul Faith/PA Wire)

Read: Nine police officers injured and 18 arrests in Belfast protests >

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