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Loyalists confront police in Belfast, a month after the City Council decided to fly the Union flag on designated days only. Paul Faith/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Union flag

Violent clashes in Belfast as flag protests enter fifth night

Police officers were attacked with missiles while vehicles were damaged with hatchets and sledge hammers.

BELFAST EXPERIENCED A fifth consecutive night of rioting, as loyalists and nationalists clashed following a demonstration outside Belfast City Hall over a controversial decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at the building.

Police say that approximately 400 people gathered for a “largely peaceful” demonstration at Belfast City Hall between 6pm and 7pm, after which crowds dispersed back to the north and south of the city without incident.

However, a crowd of approximately 250 then returned to east Belfast and threw a number of missiles from the Short Strand area. The PSNI said additional police officers responded to support neighbourhood officers who were already on the ground in the Short Strand in order to deal with a crowd of around 70, mainly youths, that had rapidly gathered.

Police moved the crowd up the Newtownards Road in an attempt to separate rival factions but then came under attack.

Missiles, including petrol bombs, paint bombs, fireworks and heavy masonry, were thrown at officers and vehicles were attacked with hatchets and sledge hammers.

A water cannon was deployed and, due to the level of violence being encountered, five Attenuated Energy Projectiles (AEPs) were also discharged.

Police say protesters proceeded to construct a barricade in the middle of the road and set this alight.

Two males and two females were arrested for riot and public order offences. Sixty-two police officers have been injured and almost 100 people arrested since the protests began.

Yesterday marked the first meeting of the council at Belfast City Hall since the flag vote was taken on 3 December – and marked no indication of the council reversing its decision.

The Union flag will be flown from the hall tomorrow to mark the Duchess of Cambridge’s birthday.

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