Northern Irish militants seen hijacking flag protests
BELFAST (Reuters) - Pro-British militant groups are instigating riots that have rocked the Northern Irish capital Belfast in the past month, a police officers' representative said on Sunday as officers came under attack again.
The violence stems from protests over the removal of the British flag over Belfast City Hall. It has been among the province's worst since a 1998 peace accord ended 30 years of conflict in which Catholic nationalists seeking union with Ireland fought British forces and mainly Protestant loyalists.
Fireworks, bottles and bricks were flung at officers for a fourth successive night on Sunday although a police spokeswoman said the trouble was not on the scale of the previous night, when police came under attack with petrol bombs and gunfire.
By Sunday, 70 people had been arrested, including a 38-year-old man detained on Saturday on suspicion of attempted murder over the shooting.
Police had said that members of pro-British militant groups helped to orchestrate and had taken part in the first wave of violence in early December. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said the recent attacks showed this was now clearly the case.
"What it quite clearly demonstrates is the fact that paramilitaries have hijacked this flags protest issue and they have now turned their guns on the police," federation chairman Terry Spence told BBC radio.
"It is very clear that there are leading members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) who are exploiting this and are organizing and orchestrating this violence against police officers who are out there trying to uphold the law and prevent anarchy on our streets."
Both the UVF and Northern Ireland's other main loyalist militant group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, ceased hostilities in 2007 and decommissioned their stocks of weapons following the signing of the peace deal.
At least 3,600 people were killed in the 30 years of violence before the 1998 peace deal. Continued...