Saturday 23 September 2017

Loyalists attack police with petrol bombs during another night of Belfast violence

Deric Henderson

LOYALISTS tried to kill a police officer when they set fire to his patrol car in Belfast tonight.

A gang of 15 men tossed a petrol bomb into the unmarked vehicle after surrounding and smashing it outside the offices of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long.



It was the worst incident in another night of sporadic violence in parts of east and south Belfast involving loyalists who took to the streets again in protest against a decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.



PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the officer was lucky to escape with his life outside the MP's office on the Newtownards Road. They were treating the attack as attempted murder.



Officers were also attacked with petrol bombs in south Belfast close to the M1 motorway.



He said: "This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger and it is fortunate there were no injuries."



Peter Robinson, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party had talks in Belfast today with Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to try to agree some sort of agreed political strategy in a bid to ease tensions and end the violence on the streets. They have been heavily criticised by nationalist representatives over their leadership since the trouble first flared a week ago.



The trouble followed a council decision to limit the flying of the Union flag to designated days only. Ms Long's Alliance Party has been blamed by the loyalists for supporting the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein in pushing through the vote to lower the flag.



There were also protests tonight in Limavady, Co Londonderry, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, Ballycastle, Co Antrim and Cookstown, Co Tyrone where the car of a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ian McCrea, was surrounded by angry loyalist who were angry at his presence.



Several roads in Belfast were blocked and at one stage tonight police were also attacked with petrol bombs and fireworks at Broadway, not far from the M1 motorway.



Last week Ms Long was told by police to stay away from her home and her office on the Newtownards Road because of fears for her safety. Constituency offices used by the party were also attacked in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim and Bangor, Co Down.



Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt have already called for loyalist restraint, and according to a statement tonight they agreed to work on a "joint basis with a view to urgently bringing forward political proposals to address widespread concerns across the community".



More talks are planned for tomorrow.



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