* Hundreds take to streets in latest outbreak of violence
* Youths angry at removal of British flag from city hall
* Protesters block roads, bus services suspended
* Highway closed after pipe bomb found
By Stephen Mangan
BELFAST, Jan 11 Police in Northern Ireland fired
plastic bullets and water cannon at rioters who wounded four
officers with missiles and petrol bombs in the latest outbreak
of anger at the removal of the British flag from Belfast City
Hundreds of other protesters brought large areas of Belfast
to a standstill, shutting at least a dozen roads and forcing the
shut-down of the city's bus service. A major highway in the city
was closed after a small bomb was found.
The unrest over the past five weeks has been some of the
most sustained in the British-controlled 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 nationalist
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 with
At least 200 youths, many covering their faces with scarves
and hoods, gathered in Newtownabbey, north Belfast and some set
fire to a double-decker bus.
Within an hour several dozen were launching petrol bombs,
paint bombs and fireworks at police, who responded with water
cannon. Hundreds of mainly teenage protesters looked on.
At a separate protest in Carrickfergus, 15 km (10 miles)
northeast of Belfast, police were pelted with bricks and bottles
and responded with five rounds of plastic bullets, police said
in a statement.
Police regained control of the area by blocking a number of
protesters into a side street and detaining several.
Many roads in central Belfast were deserted early in the
evening after protest organisers promised on Twitter to shut
down the city. Police reported that at least 12 roads had been
closed, although some were later reopened. The city's main bus
routes were suspended.
The Westlink dual carriageway, a Belfast traffic artery, was
closed while police removed a "small viable pipe bomb," police
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.
But exasperated residents from both communities, concerned
at the impact of the protests on the economy and the city's
image, have called on the protesters to halt the rioting and
address their concerns to politicians.
In Belfast city centre, several bars and restaurants were
offering discounts to entice customers to ignore the rioters and
support local businesses disrupted by weeks of protests.