Unionist leaders meet PUP amid loyalist flag protests

Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt met the PUP amid ongoing loyalist protests over flags

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The leaders of the two main unionist parties have met the leadership of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) amid ongoing loyalist street protests.

The protesters have expressed anger over a decision to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Speaking afterwards, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said a "cohesive unionism" was required in the present situation.

Mr Hutchinson also said a strategy was needed to stop what he described as "Sinn Fein's Brits out policy".

The DUP leader, Peter Robinson, and the UUP leader, Mike Nesbitt, attended the meeting following more than a week of protests, some of which have ended in rioting and violent attacks on police and property.

Twenty-nine police officers have been injured during loyalist demonstrations since Belfast City Council voted to change its flag policy on 3 December.

Nationalist councillors, who hold a majority on the council, wanted to remove the flag completely.

However, Sinn Fein and the SDLP backed a compromise motion - proposed by the Alliance party - to fly the flag on designated days rather than all year round.

On Tuesday, after eight consecutive nights of violence across Northern Ireland and the attempted murder of a policewoman in east Belfast, the UUP leader called for an end to the protests.

In an urgent statement to the House of Commons later the same day, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Teresa Villiers, said the union flag had been "shamed" by the people who used violence to try to protect it.

The demonstrations continued on Tuesday night but passed off peacefully.

Ahead of the evening rush hour on Wednesday, protesters blocked a number of roads in Belfast.

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