UK & World News
Belfast Police Accused Of Being 'Heavy-Handed'
A Presbyterian minister leading talks aimed at ending disturbances on the streets of Belfast has said he wants to meet police officials to discuss claims they were too heavy-handed with loyalist protesters.
At least 70 people have been arrested and 47 charged with public order offences amid unrest over the over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
And Police service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Mr Matt Baggott said that laser pens had been directed at officers' faces and gunshots fired during the last three nights of violence.
"I want to commend the tireless courage of my officers at this very difficult time," he said. "Fifty two colleagues have now been injured while protecting the community during a series of violent incidents.
"You may be assured there will be sufficient resources in the event of more disorder for however long is necessary. The Police Service will continue to do everything possible to maintain law and order and we will deal firmly with outbreaks of violence".
However, after a meeting of church leaders and politicians and community representatives, Rev Mervyn Gibson said there were accusations that police used batons against people who were not involved in the rioting.
"There's a genuine feeling that there was a change in tactics, that the gloves were off," he said.
"In these instances, not everybody is a rioter."
He said unionist leaders would seek meetings with the Policing Board, the local police commander and the local policing partnership.
Earlier, Robin Newton of the Democratic Unionist Party said a lack of engagement from protest organisers in the peace talks was making progress difficult.
"We have to find a way out of this, but how we do it I don't know," he said.
Mr Newton said there was confusion about exactly what demonstrators wanted. "I think we need a bit of calm and reflection," he said.
"We need to get wise heads together."
Around 100 loyalists pelted officers with rocks, fireworks and fire bombs in the Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road and Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue areas of the city on Saturday.
A 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after gunshots were reportedly fired during the clashes between loyalist and nationalist protesters.
Sky sources revealed that pictures from a police helicopter prompted the detention of the suspect.
Conall McDevitt, policing spokesman for the nationalist SDLP, said the firing of shots at police officers ended any claim to legitimacy by the protest organisers.
"Whatever grievance some people may have had, it is totally lost when they allow people to use these protests as cover for attempted murder," said the South Belfast MLA.
"There is only one response possible - and that's a firm policing response against everyone involved in illegal protests and anyone seeking to organise or encourage illegal or violent demonstrations."
The violence followed a tense but peaceful march by around 1,000 loyalists.
There was a heavy police presence, including officers in riot gear with dogs stationed within the historic civic building itself and on surrounding side streets.
But as the flag-waving crowds dispersed, ugly scenes flared again.
Loyalist violence on Friday night had already seen 18 people arrested and nine police officers injured.
More than 30 petrol bombs, along with fireworks, ball bearings and masonry were hurled at officers during a sustained attack in the east of the city. Up to 300 people were involved in the disturbances.
None of the police injuries were life threatening, however one female officer required medical treatment at the scene by an ambulance.
On Thursday 10 police officers were injured during a demonstration in east Belfast.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said violence against the police was a "disgrace" and those behind days of unrest were playing into the hands of dissident republicans.
Street protests have been going on for more than a month now against the decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown from City Hall. There have also been death threats to politicians.
Mr Robinson said: "The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified.
"Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their† terror aims."
Sky's Ireland Correspondent David Blevins said: "There is the potential for the violence to intensify, and the gunshots from with the loyalist area is a very worrying development.
"The clashes between police and loyalists came after the officers were accused of brutality after the march."
what do you think?
It's. giant step backwards a small minority are destroying everything that's been done
Ive seen these loyalist at work and they like nothing better than to provoke trouble.
Im not sure if you are reading the same news the resof us are but it clearly says "loyalists apparently came under attack as they passed a nationalist area, following a peaceful march" This indicate that the problem came from the other side this does not make it right this guy had a gun but is shows that the loyalits did not start it
No i meant loyalist.these marches all the time are just provoking trouble every year.they march yes but they march in circles outside catholic churches and around them blowing their trumpets.
Its where these marches go and how long they stay that matters
As do the republicans...
People killing each other over a flag and religion its quite sad proves they have no life
From last week`s Daily Mail ( letters to the editor ) ;- A lady from Belfast, a lifelong " Unionist " reached her 100th birthday, she was looking forward to a card from the Queen. She got one. She also got one from the President of The Irish Republic ! ( they don`t recognise the border ) That one contained a cheque for £2 000.
Funny, they never did that in all the years of the Celtic Tiger boom - so why do it now when thay are bankrupt?
Because they are not using their own money.
Correct Jeffrey, refer to David Cameron`s " help for a friend "
We sent ships and aircraft and soldiers around the world to defend the Union Flag on a little island when another country wanted to put its own flag there. I can understand the British people in Northern Ireland feel agrieved
People forget how many loyalists gave their lives in wwi and ww2 so to refuse to fly the union flag is an insult to their memorys
why? they fought to prevent facism taking over europe not for the the flag to be flown over belfast city hall which has been taken down perfectly legally through the councils democratic process the exact thing they were fighting for democracy over dictatorship
The flag should never have come down, they are part of the Union after all, and it should be flown beside the Northern Irish flag at that
Ban the orangemen marches and have a carnival instead.
Whilst I wholeheartedly condemn the violence Northern Ireland is British and therefore the union flag should be flown. End of. Soon we will not be allowed to fly it on the mainland. anymore either as it will be seen as "racist" as the flag of St George is already
I agree Tim.Every St Georges day our flags are up. I wear a red rose and proudly show my England flag tattoo.
Why on earth do they not just fly the flag again - surely it is not worth all this violence - how can this be allowed to go on - hasn' there been enough violence over the years - when will the powers that be recognise they are supposed to serve the people, not the other way around
TO ALL IRISH PEOPLE GET A LIFE...this is a small group of people who want the troubles to carry on then they cant make out of it
Yeah david.this isnt just about the flag now.
Why is this even an issue? NI is part of the UK. So the Union Flag should be flown whenever and wherever they want to fly it. You can fly your tricolours as well if you want but on public buildings it should be the Union Flag, as anywhere else in the UK.
The loyalist comunity are sick of there identity and culture being stripped away.They have convicted terrorists who have bombed and murdered their people in government.Who says violence doesnt work.
it would appear that a lot of the comments on here are from people who don't live in the north of irealnd/ Sadly the union flag is used by loyalists as a way of marking territory, thr village where i liveis a mixed community with no flags ever flown then some ex army houses were sold off and on the first 12th of July the union flags appeared put up by people who didn't come from yhe village but tryin to stir up trouble where there had never been any before. In another village a few miles away a big sign up saying taigs not welcome here try explaining that to your 6 year old son. I am english and have been livin there 10 years and the only insults have come from the loyalist community as i have committed the heinious crime of livin in the catholic community Yes NI is part of the UK but attitudes are nore that of apartheid south africa