Removal of flag 'provoked' loyalists

Recrimination raged in Belfast after 18 people, including 15 police officers, were injured in riots sparked by a dispute over flag-flying. Peter Robinson, the First Minister, described the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall as "provocative".

Loyalist rioters forced their way into a courtyard of city hall while a council meeting was in progress, flinging bottles, golf balls and other missiles at police on Monday night. The disorder broke out after councillors voted to reduce the flying of the Union Flag to 18 designated days a year instead of every day. The trouble involved a small minority of the 1,000 people who had attempted to lobby councillors. Two security staff and a press photographer were also hurt.

Other isolated disturbances broke out in a loyalist area of east Belfast. The violent loyalists were condemned by all sides, although republicans also criticised police for making inadequate preparations for dealing with such trouble.

Mr Robinson said: "The decision to pursue the removal of the flag from city hall and other council buildings – despite warnings of the likely impact on community relations – was foolish and provocative."

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