Twenty-nine Northern Irish police officers were injured on Saturday while trying to quell sectarian clashes in Belfast, as the row over limits to the flying of the British flag showed no sign of abating.
Police used water cannon and fired six plastic bullet rounds during the clashes, the latest to blight the British province after more than five weeks of violence.
A police spokesman confirmed that some of the officers required hospital treatment for injuries sustained during disorder in east Belfast.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott paid tribute to his officers.
“My colleagues brought the situation under control with exceptional courage and professionalism,” he said.
Witnesses said rocks and fireworks were thrown as lines of police tried to keep apart loyalists — the Protestant community’s working-class hardcore — and Catholic nationalists in the Short Strand area of Belfast.
Earlier, nearly 1,000 people had gathered outside Belfast City Hall to protest. The trouble erupted at about 2:30pm as the group passed the republican neighborhood.
Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, will join Northern Irish Secretary Theresa Villiers and Irish Tanaiste (head of governmnet) Eamonn Gilmore for talks this week on the unrest.
“This violence is being orchestrated and those behind it are known criminals, intent on creating chaos,” Gilmore said. “This has nothing to do with real issues around flags and identity in a shared society, which are the subject of intensive political discussions at present.”
Conall McDevitt, a Nationalist Socialist Democratic and Labour Party member of the legislative assembly said: “These are depraved acts which immediately dismiss any claim on a protest being peaceful.”
“This violence cannot continue. People want to go about their daily lives, but are really angry at the disruption they have faced in recent weeks,” Alliance Party assembly member Judith Cochrane said. “These protests and violence are doing untold damage to traders and businesses and Northern Ireland’s image is being tarnished.”
A 1998 peace agreement brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics, but sporadic violence continues.