Police attacked as Northern Ireland flag row inflames loyalists

Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:03pm EST
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By Ian Graham

Belfast (Reuters) - Police were attacked in Belfast on Monday night by loyalists enraged by a decision to remove the British flag from Belfast City Hall, which has sparked eight consecutive days of protests.

About 15 masked men broke out of a crowd assembled in the predominantly Protestant Newtownards Road area, smashed the windows of a police car and threw a petrol bomb into it while an officer was still inside, police said.

The officer escaped unharmed but the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said they were treating the attack as attempted murder.

The attack was one of a series of protests across the city on Monday during which stones and fireworks were hurled at police, who responded with water cannon in at least two locations.

Loyalists have been protesting against a decision by Irish nationalist city councilors from Sinn Fein and the SDLP to take down the flag which had flown above the provincial capital's city hall every day since it opened in 1906.

The decision by councillors means Britain's 'Union Jack' flag will now fly on 17 days during the year, as is the case at the provincial assembly at Stormont in the British-controlled province.

"This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger," Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said.

The attack happened outside the constituency office of Naomi Long, a member of the British parliament for the non-sectarian centrist Alliance party.   Continued...