16 PSNI officers injured amid east Belfast clashes
Last night's co-ordinated action was dubbed Operation Standstill by organisers. Police said most of the protests were peaceful. Many roads were blocked off between 6pm and 8pm as protesters again took to the streets to voice their opposition at the flag decision. Most Belfast local bus services apart from the Falls Road service were suspended, while people trying to get to a Heineken Cup game between Ulster and Glasgow at Ravenhill suffered delays and parking difficulties
The SDLP today condemned news that a doctor was prevented from attending a terminally ill cancer patient because of loyalist road blocks in south Belfast. The GP was travelling to a home call with the sick man when he was stopped twice by crowds of demonstrators who blocked the road. Police asked them to move but they refused, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said. “These are depraved acts which immediately dismiss any claim on a protest being peaceful.” The doctor had to wait until the blockade was lifted.
A PSNI spokesman said: “A senior police officer has spoken to a GP who was unable to visit a patient in south west Belfast this evening, due to a street protest at which police were in attendance. The doctor was able to visit his patient a short time later. Police are endeavouring to contact the patient and their family to explain the circumstances of the incident.”
Willie Frazer of the newly formed Ulster People’s Forum, which has been involved in organising some of the protests, said Operation Standstill was designed to “keep the flag issue in the public eye”.
A counter Operation Sit-In was also organised last night on social network sites urging people to sit out the disruption in city centre pubs and restaurants to assist businesses hit by the six-week campaign of street action.
The Democratic Unionist Party and Progressive Unionist Party have both submitted challenges in Belfast council over the decision to restrict the flying of the flag. They claim the move contravened its equality policy.
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “The decision to introduce the policy of flying the Union flag at City Hall was taken democratically by elected members at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council on December 3rd.
“The council has taken legal advice throughout this process and the decision is in keeping with the outcome of the equality impact assessment that was undertaken in line with the advice of the Equality Commission.
“The designated days agreed are in keeping with those notified by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport.”
Yesterday, one of Northern Ireland’s most senior Protestant ministers called on loyalists to end “intolerable” attacks on police.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Roy Patton said: “The situation being faced by the police is intolerable and in keeping order on our streets and bringing people before the courts the PSNI must have the full support of all who want to see an end to this violence.” Unionist politicians have tried to find common ground by setting by a forum to consider ways to move beyond demonstrations, but they have insisted it was not a step towards a single unionist party.