Fresh clashes have broken out between police and protesters in east Belfast, as demonstrators attack officers with bricks and smoke bombs. Police have responded by using water cannons.
At least ten police officers were injured in violent clashes between loyalists and riot police in Belfast last night. Eighteen people were arrested after police fired water cannons at crowds of rioters hurling fireworks.
The demonstrations were prompted by a December 3 decision which limits the number of days the British flag will be flown at City Hall. The Council has voted to fly the Union Jack only on designated days rather than year-round.
“Police have come under sustained attack from crowds of up to 300 people using fireworks, bricks and petrol bombs. Water cannon had been deployed to the scene,” a Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesperson told AFP.
Rioters reportedly threw more than 30 petrol bombs at officers, along with ball bearings, fireworks and bricks, as police responded to clashes on Thursday night in Protestant sections of Belfast. Ten officers were injured in east Belfast during a similar demonstration.
First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson called the violence a “disgrace,” which is “criminally wrong and cannot be justified.”
“Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims,” AFP quoted Robinson as saying.
Several protests by pro-British unionists took place in December, some of which were also marred by clashes.
Loyalist protesters block Cregagh Road in East Belfast after a decision was made to remove the British flag from Belfast’s City Hall January 4, 2013. (Reuters / Cathal McNaughton)
Armour-plated police Jeeps are attacked by youths throwing petrol bombs in East Belfast, after a decision was made to remove the British flag from Belfast’s City Hall January 4, 2013. (Reuters / Cathal McNaughton)