Riot erupts in Belfast over removal of British flag

BELFAST Mon Dec 3, 2012 11:37pm GMT

1 of 3. Loyalists clash with police officers outside the City Hall in Belfast following a vote by local councillors on the flying of the Union Flag on top of the City Hall, December 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

BELFAST (Reuters) - At least five police officers were wounded during a riot at Belfast city hall in Northern Ireland on Monday after Irish nationalist councillors voted to remove the British flag from the building on all but 17 days of the year.

Hundreds of protesters, many carrying British flags, clashed with police after nationalist councillors from Sinn Fein and the SDLP voted to take down the flag which has flown above the city hall every day since the building was opened in 1906.

An attempt to storm the building was repelled by police. A photographer from the Press Association and two security guards were injured in the disorder and two female police officers were treated in hospital, a police spokeswoman said.

The decision means the flag will be flown only 17 days during the year, as is the case at the provincial assembly at Stormont in the British-controlled province.

Nationalist and Unionist parties share power in the provincial assembly under a 1998 peace deal that largely ended 30 years of sectarian violence in which more than 3,600 people died.

Nationalist parties, which aspire to break from London and join a united Ireland, last year for the first time secured more seats on the council than Unionist parties, which support maintaining Northern Ireland's position in the United Kingdom.

Democratic Unionist Party councillor Ruth Patterson described Monday's vote as "divisive, destructive and disrespectful of anything remotely Protestant, anything remotely British".

(Reporting by Ian Graham, Reporting by Conor Humphries, Editing by Michael Roddy)

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