Ten police officers hurt in trouble after Belfast union flag protest

Police under petrol bomb attack at Castlereagh Street in East Belfast Police under petrol bomb attack at Castlereagh Street in East Belfast

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Ten officers were injured when police were attacked by a crowd throwing petrol bombs and missiles in Belfast.

Disorder broke out at about 18:30 GMT on Thursday on Albertbridge Road after a loyalist protest against union flag restrictions at Belfast City Hall.

A car was also set on fire in nearby Templemore Avenue.

The disturbances on Thursday were concentrated on Albertbridge Road, Castlereagh Street and Mountpottinger Street.

Debris was set on fire at the junction of Castlereagh Street and Beersbridge Road and motorists were advised to avoid these areas.

'Despicable'

Police said the crowd that attacked police was about 100 strong.

A man and a 16-year-old boy were arrested and charged with rioting.

Christopher Shires, 23, of Beechfield Street in the city, appeared before Belfast Magistrates' Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

The teenager is due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on 28 January.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton described the violence as "despicable".

Speaking on BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, he said: "It was initiated by the loyalist protesters and unfortunately for a number of weeks now we have been trying to facilitate lawful protest and we have been trying to do that in a proportionate and a graduated way.

"This sort of disorder last night is completely despicable and what we have seen is ten police officers injured this morning."

'Unionist unity'

On the same programme, east Belfast loyalist and community activist Jim Wilson called on unionists to present a united front.

"For the past five or six years I have been squealing for unionist unity in all directions, that we need to have one unionist movement, one unionist grouping.

"I'm not talking about politically, but in a sense that we need to challenge the republican movement and the stuff that they are doing at our communities, because they are very disciplined and organised in how they are doing it."

Street demonstrations have been taking place across Northern Ireland since Belfast City Council voted to change its long-standing flag policy on 3 December.

Violence

Loyalists are protesting against the decision to fly the union flag at Belfast City Hall on a small number of designated days, rather than all year round.

Some of the demonstrations have resulted in violence, including the attempted murder of a police officer in a petrol bomb attack in east Belfast on 10 December.

Last month, 29 PSNI officers were injured as a result of protest-related violence.

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