Thirty officers injured by loyalists in Belfast Union Flag protests

 

Police in Northern Ireland were last night at full stretch as sporadic loyalist protests over flag-flying broke out in many areas in and around Belfast.

An injured officer was taken to hospital following police clashes with loyalists in the east of the city in one of a number of incidents following a city-centre protest rally.

While most incidents were non-violent and did not last long, in some cases protesters threw bottles and bricks at officers.

The police and members of the non-sectarian Alliance Party have borne the brunt of the protests, which have now gone on for several days. Almost 30 officers have been injured, as loyalists went on the rampage.

Several homes and offices of members of the Alliance Party have been attacked by loyalists taking exception to the party's support for restrictions on the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall.

In the latest incident, the County Down home of the Alliance councillor Linda Cleland was attacked early yesterday. She said she heard people on her roof, adding: "They've put in all my downstairs windows, they've put in all the windows of my car and they've put in one of my upstairs windows. I have never been so scared in my life, or felt so helpless."

The Democratic Unionist Westminster MP Jim Shannon said: "These attacks are not protest, they are raw terrorism. The cowards responsible for attacking the home of an innocent and defenceless woman must cease their actions."

Appealing for calm, police described the disorders as "thuggery disguised as protest". A senior officer said: "Loyalist paramilitary groups are now actively involved in orchestrating this disorder – we have seen that in the last couple of nights."

Up to 2,000 people took part in yesterday's rally, which passed off without incident. A controversial sectarian song was sung by those attending, followed by the National Anthem.

On Friday night, several dozen loyalists disrupted a council Christmas dinner near Belfast, hijacking and burning two vehicles and smashing the windscreens of other cars.

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