Police attacked in flag protests

 

Loyalists pelted police with bottles and stones in a new outbreak of trouble in east Belfast tonight amid warnings that potential investors are turning away because of the street violence.

A special meeting of Unionist representatives has been called in a bid to end the loyalist unrest because of a decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag above City Hall.

It is due to fly again tomorrow to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge, but with riot police again facing hundreds of masked men in and around the lower Newtownards Road area, there is no sign of a halt to the protests.

Fireworks, rocks, golf balls and petrol bombs were also fired at the police lines tonight, but there were no early reports of injuries on the sixth consecutive night of violence in that confined flashpoint area of east Belfast.

Earlier the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, confirmed that representatives of the various unionist parties will meet at Stormont on Thursday to discuss the ongoing trouble.

But leaders centrally involved in the protests who are threatening to take their campaign unto the streets of Dublin on Saturday have pledged they no want to be part of the discussions.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said today gardaí will be "prepared for any eventuality" that arises during the protest on Saturday. Loyalist protesters say they will rally outside Dáil Éireann as part of their ongoing dispute. Dissident republicans are planning a counter-demonstration

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed jobs will be lost and shops shut unless there is an immediate end to trouble in Northern Ireland. NI director Nigel Smyth warned: “We are already aware of investors who have lost interest because of these disruptions.” The unrest has continued intermittently since

Belfast City Council’s decision last month to reduce the number of days the flag flies to 18 days. A total of 66 officers have been hurt and 104 arrests made since the protests started a month ago.

Businesses, especially restaurant owners, said the disruption has had a disastrous impact on trade.

Mr Smyth added: “The violence and disruptive actions of those involved in the street protests is having a detrimental impact on local businesses, as well as damaging prospective tourism and investment for the year ahead.

“There is now a very real risk of job losses as the very livelihood of the business owners and staff in the communities affected is threatened.” Mr Robinson who will head up Thursday’s Forum with the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, admitted there was considerable economic unease.

He said: “We know the people considering investing. We know the nervousness of some of those who have invested in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The only outcome is that (the riots) damage Northern Ireland’s prospects of bringing more jobs here, damage the prospects of young people who want to get into employment and damage the prospects of us having prosperity in Northern Ireland.”

Police last night fired baton rounds and deployed water cannon on rioters as violence flared in east Belfast again.

PA

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