A police officer in riot gear walks past a burning hijacked
car during rioting in East Belfast. REUTERS/Cathal
At least 29 police officers were injured when pro-British
and Irish nationalist youths clashed in the Northern Irish
capital following another protest against the removal of the
British flag from Belfast City Hall.
Rioting started as the mainly Protestant protesters passed a
Catholic area on their way home from a rally in central
Belfast against the flag's removal. Police scrambled to
separate crowds of youths who pelted each other with bricks
The unrest over the past five weeks has been some of the most
sustained in the British-ruled province since a 1998 peace
deal ended 30 years of conflict between Catholic Irish
nationalists seeking union with Ireland and Protestant
loyalists determined to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Exposing a deep vein of discontent with the peace deal,
loyalists have held nightly protests since councillors voted
last month to end a century-old tradition of flying the
British union flag every day over the city hall.
Loyalist politicians have joined their nationalist rivals in
condemning the violence, but they have been unable to prevent
groups of young men draped in British flags from clashing
The protesters have complained that the removal of the flag
was a step too far in the ebbing of loyalist dominance in the
province, saying too many concessions had been given to Irish
nationalists in a power-sharing government.
"The protests will continue until our concerns are met," said
Fergus Ferguson, from south Belfast, who described the
decision to take down the flag as "illegal".
At least 1,000 loyalists, some with Union Jack tops,
balaclavas and "No Surrender" banners, gathered at City Hall
After police blocked their way towards East Belfast the
loyalist protesters took a detour towards the nationalist
Short Strand area, a traditional flash point for sectarian
violence, where they clashed with local youths.
After the nationalists dispersed, police turned water cannon
on loyalist protesters who pushed riot police back with metal
fencing and ripped up paving stones to hurl at police lines.
Reinforcements including dozens of jeeps, a helicopter and at
least three water cannon trucks were sent in to try to
control the crowds. Police said they fired at least six
plastic bullet rounds.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said his officers acted with
"exceptional courage" during the disturbances, which led to
four officers being treated in hospital. But community
leaders criticised the police for failing to stop the protest
passing a well-known trouble spot.
"The police have a lot to answer for. We had women and
children in this parade. It's a miracle nobody was killed,"
said Matthew Ferguson, who attended the protest with his
Train services in Belfast were disrupted on Saturday when a
small explosive device was found near a rail line in the
city, a police spokesman said.