Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Police attacked in flag protests

Loyalists set up burning barricades on Monday night on Newtownards Road, Belfast

Loyalists have pelted police with bottles and stones in a new outbreak of trouble in east Belfast 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 on Wednesday 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, 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 want no part in the discussions.

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed jobs will be lost and shops shut unless there is an immediate end to trouble.

Northern Ireland 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."

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