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Monday 19 March 2018

Police officers hurt in another night of violence in the North

David Young

ELEVEN police officers were injured in the latest night of loyalist violence over the ongoing dispute about the Union flag in Northern Ireland.

Most suffered leg injuries from bricks thrown by rioters as a number of demonstrations turned ugly.

A total of 41 officers have been injured in almost three weeks of disturbances - first triggered when Belfast City Council voted to reduce the number of days the flag flies on City Hall.

Sixteen people were arrested in last night's disorder - bringing to 59 the number detained so far.

Among those taken into custody were children as young as 11 and 12.

There were 80 protests staged across Northern Ireland. While the majority were peaceful, trouble flared in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Lisburn and Portadown.

In Carrick, a loyalist gang stormed a meeting of the town council and threatened elected representatives.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said that, while loyalist paramilitary elements were involved in the protests, there was no evidence of overall orchestration by the groups.

"There are people with a paramilitary background involved in the protests on the streets," he said.

"But is there a directing hand there? I'm not seeing it as yet."

The senior officer also defended the police's handling of the riots, amid claims that officers are not being pro-active enough to prevent people blocking roads.

"We are dealing with dynamic situations," he said.

"Where you have several hundred people on the road and in order to move them off the road a balance has to be struck between regrettable disruption to people and the possibility for serious public disorder to break out."

Mr Jones predicted many more arrests as the police trawled through footage gathered from the riots.

"Evidence-gathering teams are out and at some point we will be coming knocking on their (rioters') doors," he said.

The officer reiterated the police's call for the protests to end.

Referring to efforts by unionist politicians to find a political solution to address loyalist concerns, Mr Jones said: "We are appealing for everyone to take a step back and create a space for people to try to come up with a means by which people who are expressing their anger and frustration can do it in a different way and not bring it on to the streets."

Noting the young age of some of those involved, he also urged parents to take more responsibility.

"I am a parent myself and you need to know where your kids are, you need to know what they are up to. I know it might not be easy but we don't want 11 and 12-year-olds entering the criminal justice system."

He said he was confident that police resources could cope with the situation but stressed the disorder was diverting focus away from dealing with other crimes affecting communities.

The demonstrations have left many retailers and other business owners despairing at the unwelcome blow to the pre-Christmas trade.

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