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Belfast police injured during rallies

At least 29 officers are injured as protesters clash in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast over ties to Britain.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2013 02:55
Police used water cannons, shields and occasional shots of plastic bullets to disperse protests [Reuters]

Twenty-nine Northern Ireland police officers have been injured while trying to quell sectarian clashes in Belfast, as the row over limits to the flying of the British flag shows no sign of abating.

Violence broke out on Saturday as the protesters passed Short Strand, the only Catholic enclave in east Belfast.

Masked, hooded Catholic youths tossed bottles, rocks and other makeshift weapons at the protesters. A running street battle ensued with heavily armoured police in the middle.

Amid chaotic scenes, police used water cannons, shields and occasional shots of plastic bullets to force the Protestants away from the Catholic district.

Protestant hardliners have mounted illegal protests and road blockades for the past six weeks in protest at Catholic council members' decision to fly the flag only 18 days annually, not year round.

The protesters - many waving British flags, chanting, or covering their faces with scarves to avoid recognition - came from three different areas to converge on City Hall, a pattern that has continued every Saturday for the past several weeks.

"We're going to keep protesting until we get our flag back up in its rightful place" said one demonstrator, holding a British flag over his shoulder, but who did not want to be named.

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) says he condemns the clashes which have been happening sporadically across the city.

"There's no room for violence" said the politician on Saturday, outside Belfast City Hall. "The violence is drowning out the message. Those people that are involved in the violence, go away, because you're not welcome" he added.

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