Sixteen police injured in Northern Ireland clashes

Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:17pm EST
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By Stephen Mangan

BELFAST (Reuters) - At least 16 police officers were injured when pro-British and Irish nationalist youths clashed in the Northern Irish capital on Saturday following another protest against the removal of the British flag from Belfast City Hall.

Rioting started as the mainly Protestant protesters passed a Catholic area on their way home from a rally in central Belfast against the flag's removal. Police scrambled to separate crowds of youths who pelted each other with bricks and bottles.

The unrest over the past five weeks has been some of the most sustained in the British-ruled 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 councilors 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 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.

"The protests will continue until our concerns are met," said Fergus Ferguson, from south Belfast, who described the decision to take down the flag as "illegal".

At least 1,000 loyalists, some with Union Jack tops, balaclavas and "No Surrender" banners, gathered at City Hall on Saturday.   Continued...

Loyalists demonstrators clash with police during rioting in East Belfast, January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton