Northern Irish youths pelt Catholic church in latest "flag riots"

BELFAST Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:52pm EST

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BELFAST (Reuters) - Youths in Northern Ireland threw petrol bombs at police and rocks at a Catholic Church on Monday night as violence triggered by a decision not to raise the flag at Belfast city hall took on increasingly sectarian overtones.

Some loyalists - those who want to see the province remain part of the United Kingdom - pelted homes of nationalists - who seek union with Ireland, and the two groups threw rocks and bottles at each other as police tried to separate the factions, a witness said.

Loyalist youths have fought street battles with police on an almost nightly basis over the last six weeks in what has been some of the most sustained violence in the British-controlled province since a 1998 peace deal ended 30 years of conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

At least 29 police officers have been injured in a the wave of unrest which began after a decision last month by mostly nationalist councillors to end the century-old tradition of flying the British flag from City Hall every day.

(Reporting by Eamonn Mallie; Writing by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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