Peace vigil in Belfast over flag conflict
Several hundred people have attended peace vigils outside Belfast City Hall yesterday and on Saturday in response to the ongoing loyalist protests over a decision to restrict the number of days the British union flag flies over city hall.
Hundreds of people linked arms to encircle city hall in a five-minute prayer vigil for peace as up to 1,000 people gathered outside the city centre building for an hour-long rally also urging an end to the disturbances around the issue of the flag.
Yesterday’s “peace gathering” was organised through social networking sites and had the support of the PSNI.
Hoax bomb alert
While there were several loyalist protests over the weekend they were largely peaceful. But business has been badly affected with losses to traders estimated in the millions of pounds, a problem that was exacerbated when a hoax bomb alert on Saturday evening forced the closure of the busy Castle Court shopping centre in central Belfast and the area around the complex.
In the two weeks since Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance at Belfast City Hall carried the motion that the flag fly on 15 designated days rather than all year round, up to 30 PSNI officers have been injured in street violence and 40 people have been arrested. Death threats were also issued against several politicians.
At the weekend Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the way forward on how best to represent and protect identities and symbols of both traditions was via cross-party and cross-community talks.
“It is clear that the protests about the recent Belfast City Council decision on flags are serving no positive purpose. They should be ended immediately. We need to hear an unequivocal message to this effect from unionist leaders,” he said.