Belfast Telegraph

Respite from violence as protests are scaled down

By Chris Kilpatrick

Belfast was peaceful last night with a small number of loyalist protests across the city passing off without incident.

It was a welcome reprieve for residents beleaguered by six weeks of attacks on police by loyalists angered at the new rules for flying the Union flag over Belfast City Hall.

The streets of east Belfast — the scene of the worst clashes over the period of disorder — were quiet.

Just 24 hours previously, police had again come under sustained attack from petrol bombs and other missiles when loyalists mounted an attack on the nationalist Short Strand area.

Residents retaliated and police intervened to separate the rival factions.

A group of special needs children were caught up in the chaos and forced to flee from a parochial hall in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic Church.

The respite may be short lived as protests are set to be held in east Belfast this evening from 6pm until 7pm.

A separate protest is also due to be held ahead of filming of The Nolan Show following loyalist gripes over the media’s reporting of the unrest.

Last night demonstrations on the Upper Malone Road, Donegall Road and Woodvale areas of the city passed off peacefully.

Loyalists also staged a protest in Lurgan which again was trouble-free.

Since the start of the protests 115 people have been arrested, 85 people charged and 30 are still in custody.

In response to the recent disorder, Translink yesterday announced bus services in east Belfast will operate with diversions “until further notice”.

The company said it had “no option” but to divert its vehicles after further rioting in the area on Monday night which |included two attempts to hijack buses.

One driver was injured and required hospital attention.

The company said that since the unrest started, passenger travel patterns have changed, with fewer people taking evening and Saturday services.

However, there has not been an overall drop in passenger numbers.

Translink's chief executive, Catherine Mason, said: “The safety of our passengers and employees is a priority and our highest concern.

“Last night, in an attempted hijacking, one of our drivers sustained facial injuries — our thoughts and concerns are with him and our other colleagues who have been impacted by this recent disorder.

“In light of this we have no option but to adjust our evening bus services to continue to operate safely.

“We would thank our colleagues driving buses who have continued to deliver services as far as they could in these difficult circumstances and worked hard to get passengers home. We have received many expressions of thanks and support,” she added.

The decision was taken following talks between Translink, police and trade unions with the diversions taking effect yesterday evening.

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