PSNI face petrol bombers as Dublin braces itself for loyalist protest at Leinster House
LOYALIST thugs pelted police with bottles and stones in a fresh outbreak of trouble in Belfast as the city hall union flag controversy continues to rage.
Fireworks, rocks, golf balls and petrol bombs were fired at police lines last night in the east of the city as protesters once again took to the streets.
It came amid warnings that this weekend's loyalist demonstration in Dublin could end in violence and be damaging for business in the city centre.
In Belfast, a special meeting of unionist representatives has been called in a bid to end the loyalist unrest over the Belfast council decision to restrict the flying of the union flag above City Hall to just 18 days a year.
It is due to fly again tomorrow to mark the birthday of Kate Middleton, 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.
But leaders centrally involved in the protests, who are threatening to take their campaign unto the streets of Dublin on Saturday, have pledged that they want no part in the discussions.
Business leaders in the North criticised the protesters yesterday, saying jobs would be lost.
Businesses, especially restaurant owners, said the disruption had had a disastrous impact on trade.
Confederation of British Industry director Nigel Smyth added: "The violence and disruptive actions of those involved in the street protests are 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."
Meanwhile, fears are continuing to mount that the planned loyalist protest outside Leinster House in Dublin on Saturday could see a repeat of the rioting which greeted the Love Ulster march in 2006.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter insisted yesterday that gardai would be prepared for any potential flashpoints at the march, which is being organised by Protestant victims' campaigner Willie Frazer .
Mr Shatter said individuals had a right to march on the streets of Ireland, in protest or to express a view.
"They have a democratic right and an entitlement to do so," he said.
He added: "I know that the gardai will undertake any preparation necessary to ensure that if there is an event in Dublin, the maximum possible is done to guarantee the safety of any individuals, who march."
Mr Shatter said he hoped that others would not opportunistically use the event to create problems on the streets of Dublin.
He also expressed his concerns for members of the PSNI, who had been targeted and said he hoped the controversy would quieten down.
Retail Excellence Ireland expressed concern that the march could hit already-fragile Dublin city-centre businesses.
Chief executive David Fitzsimons said that marches "send a message to consumers, to citizens, that their civic space is closed, is not available to them and in this case is potentially dangerous".