Belfast rally demands return of British flag

Sat Dec 8, 2012 6:20pm EST
 
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By Ian Graham

BELFAST (Reuters) - Around 2,000 pro-British loyalists rallied in central Belfast on Saturday for the return of the British flag to the roof of city hall after a vote by Irish nationalist councilors to remove it sparked a week of rioting.

Twenty-eight police officers have been injured in the most widespread pro-British street violence for years in the province as the flag became a rallying point for people who feel there have been too many concessions to Irish nationalists.

Rioters fired bricks and petrol bombs at police and burned out cars overnight, hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for calm during a visit to the city and warned the peace process was not yet complete.

Loyalist political parties, who share the protesters' desire to remain part of the United Kingdom, condemned the rioting as did the Irish nationalist parties who they share power with.

Around 2,000 people gathered outside the imposing 19th century Baroque city hall, most waving British flags and many hiding their faces with balaclavas or scarves, prompting some local businesses in the area to close.

'NO SURRENDER'

The crowd cheered when one protester burned an Irish tricolour flag and sang the British national anthem before dispersing. Banners declared "Proud to be British" and "No Surrender."

"This goes on until the flag is back above city hall," said protester William Arthur. "Ulster is British and we will not stand for this".   Continued...

 
A Protestor draped in the Union Flag stands in front of Belfast's City Hall December 8, 2012. At least eight police officers were injured in Northern Ireland overnight in riots, which followed several nights of violence, provoked by a decision to remove the British flag from Belfast City Hall. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton