Nick Clegg phone call to support Anna Lo after racist abuse
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has called Alliance MLA Anna Lo to express his support after she received racist abuse on social media.
Ms Lo was targeted for saying that flags and paramilitary murals should be removed from the route of the Giro d'Italia cycle race later this year.
She revealed during Wednesday evening's Nolan Show on BBC One NI that Mr Clegg had phoned her earlier in the day.
Three stages of the Giro take place in NI from Friday 9 May to Sunday 11 May.
Ms Lo said: "I told him it is a very small element in our society, it does not represent the majority of the people here."
She also said she had received hundreds of messages of support.
Her party deputy leader called the comments against Ms Lo "vile and despicable".
East Belfast MP Naomi Long said Ms Lo had been making an important point about an ongoing problem.
She said her colleague had identified the chance "to look at things like paramilitary murals and flags in the run-up to the Giro d'Italia, not as a superficial attempt to deal with it, but in a way to take the opportunity to deal with issues we know are already there.
"That somebody who's elected to make those kind of calls takes racial abuse for their position is vile and despicable," she added.
"It doesn't represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland and I have to say I've been overwhelmed even overnight at how many people have contacted me to offer support and encouragement to Anna."
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the racist comments as "dehumanising".
In a joint statement they said: "We utterly condemn those who have directed racial abuse at Anna Lo, an elected representative who works tirelessly for all sections of her local community.
"Racial abuse is unacceptable on any level and these disgraceful and dehumanising comments are at complete odds with our vision of a shared and better future.
"We hope that the PSNI can find and prosecute those responsible for these despicable comments."
Michael McGimpsey of the Ulster Unionist Party also condemned the comments.
"There is no excuse for racist abuse of any kind and I condemn it unreservedly," he said.
"A new Northern Ireland is emerging in the 21st Century and it is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-faith society. This is the new normality and everyone must accept that and get used to it."
The DUP's Sammy Wilson said he disagreed with Ms Lo's call, but condemned the abuse against her.
"Regardless of how daft or indeed how dangerous some of the proposals Anna Lo has made, it is not a reason to engage in racial abuse against her," Mr Wilson said.
"As an individual, because I know Anna very well and like her, but also as a representative of the party, can I make it quite clear that whatever she has said does not warrant and does not deserve racial abuse being directed towards her.
"The police should take action against it and people should know that social media isn't a kind of cloak they can hide behind."
However, he said Ms Lo's proposal was "a daft idea" that would put police on the front line having to take flags down, and that the Alliance Party should have learned from "their last outing on flags" (at Belfast City Hall).
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said the abuse should be "unambiguously condemned".