independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Top loyalist still considering flag protest down south

Victims campaigner Willie Frazer, who has supported street protests over the decision to lower the union flag over Belfast City Hall, said yesterday that he was still considering whether to travel to Dublin at the weekend to stage a protest there.

Mr Frazer, whose father was murdered by the IRA in 1975, is a fierce critic of the power-sharing administration at Stormont and the Democratic Unionist Party leader and First Minister Peter Robinson in particular.

A 'Love Ulster' rally organised by Mr Frazer in February 2006 resulted in serious rioting on Dublin's O'Connell Street by republican protesters. Forty people were injured, property was damaged and shops looted in the 2006 riot.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Northern Irish police arrested a 38-year-old man on suspicion of attempted murder after shots were fired at police officers during protests over the removal of the British flag from Belfast City Hall.

Police used water cannon against more than 100 protesters hurling fireworks, smoke bombs and bricks in the eastern part of the city shortly after a demonstration outside City Hall calling for the flag to be reinstated on a permanent basis.

Loyalists began rioting a month ago in the most sustained violence in the city for years after a vote by mostly nationalist pro-Irish councillors to end the century-old tradition of flying the British flag from Belfast City Hall.

The violence, which stopped over Christmas, began again last Thursday and 19 police officers have been injured since then, bringing the total number of officers hurt since early December to more than 60.

Loyalists blamed yesterday's fighting on anti-British Catholic nationalists, who, they said, attacked them first.

Militant nationalists, responsible for the killings of three police officers and two soldiers since 2009, have so far not reacted violently to the flag protests, limiting any threat to 15 years of peace in Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Robinson said on Friday that rioters were playing into the hands of nationalist groups.

"The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified. Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims," he said.

"It will be enough for any unionist to know the organisers of the protest movement are not to be heeded when they hear them refer to the police as the 'terrorist PSNI'," Mr Robinson added.

The chairman of the Police Federation, Terry Spence, said he believed that the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, had orchestrated some of the attacks against his members.

Mr Spence said he had no doubt that some of the disturbances which erupted during 'flag protests' had been orchestrated by loyalist paramilitary elements and called for harsh prison sentences for those involved.

Sunday Independent

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