Trouble flares as loyalist fury over Northern Ireland flag row renews

BELFAST Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:21pm EST

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BELFAST (Reuters) - Violent protests flared in Northern Ireland on Monday night as loyalists renewed their anger against restrictions on flying Britain's union flag from Belfast City Hall.

Loyalist riots had largely eased off since a decision 15 days ago by nationalist city councilors to end the century-old tradition of flying Britain's union flag from City Hall every day. (ID:L5E8N3JDH)

In one incident, five men covering their faces in scarves and wrapped in Union Jack flags broke into a local council meeting in Carrickfergus, about 11 miles outside Belfast city centre.

The men, armed with implements including a rolled-up umbrella, banged on desks and shouted sectarian abuse at councilors, Noel Williams, a councilor at the meeting, told Reuters.

An unnamed Alliance Party councilor was singled out by the men and subjected to threatening language, while a crowd of about 20 loyalist supporters waited outside the building, Williams said.

Police dispersed the crowd and people were able to leave the building. No one was injured and it is unclear if any arrests were made.

Some loyalist protesters have targeted members of the non-sectarian centrist Alliance Party for supporting a nationalist vote to remove the flag.

The decision means the flag will be flown only 17 days during the year, as is the case at the provincial assembly at Stormont in the British-controlled province.

A police officer was injured during a riot in Sandy Row, near Belfast city centre, when protesters hurled paint bombs, fireworks and missiles at police. Trouble also broke out in other towns in the province.

Violence between the province's mainly Catholic republicans and pro-British Protestants, which raged on and off for three decades, has largely ended since a peace agreement was signed in 1998, but much of Belfast remains divided along sectarian lines. (Reporting by Eamonn Mallie; Writing by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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