UK & World News

  • 8 December 2012, 22:50

NI Police On Alert Amid Union Flag Tensions

Police are on alert in Belfast after a week of protests over new restrictions on flying the Union flag at City Hall.

Up to 2,000 people took part in a loyalist protest in the city centre on Saturday, which passed off peacefully.

But pockets of violence broke out in east Belfast - with one police officer taken to hospital - as a major security operation got underway to try to prevent a repeat of the clashes on Friday night which saw eight officers injured.

Saturday's demonstration against new restrictions on flying the Union flag at City Hall ended after about an hour with a rendition of God Save The Queen.

Two tricolours were burned amid chants and jeers while protesters sang a number of sectarian songs.

Up to 20 police armoured Land Rovers were lined up on either side of the building while officers in full riot gear with dogs could be seen in the courtyard.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said protesters had dispersed, but there was some disorder in east Belfast and a section of the Newtownards Road was closed.

The Christmas market in Belfast city centre had been temporarily shut down but later re-opened.

On Friday night, eight police officers were injured and more than a dozen people arrested - including a 13-year-old boy - during clashes between loyalists and riot police.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said loyalist paramilitaries had been orchestrating some of the violence seen in the past 24 hours.

"Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all and we will robustly investigate all incidents," he said.

"I am urging everyone to be calm, take a step back and think about how this violence is affecting not just their own communities but the whole of Northern Ireland."

Violence erupted when councillors in Belfast voted to limit the number of days the Union Flag could be flown over the City Hall to 17 days a year.

A death threat against the MP Naomi Long, whose Alliance Party tabled a compromise agreement on the issue, led to an escalation in the seriousness of the tensions.

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