BELFAST REOPENS AFTER LOYALIST UNION FLAG PROTEST AT CITY HALL

Loyalists burn Tricolour at City Hall

A LOYALIST protest rally at Belfast City Hall has passed off without incident.

The town centre has now reopened to traffic and shoppers.

Earlier, loyalist protestors burned an Irish Tricolour flag at the City Hall on Saturday afternoon.

The protest by several thousand loyalists from across Belfast closed the Christmas market for safety fears.

Many of the nearby shops, coffee houses and bars were relatively quiet on what should have been a busy day.

The crowds later disperseded although a heavy police presence is still in place.

Several hundred riot squad police backed up by two water cannons are already in place to quell any violence.

Over 1,000 left the Shankill Road in west Belfast at 1pm and were warned at the bottom of Peter’s Hill by the police that it was an “illegal parade’’.

An even bigger crowd left from east Belfast which has been focusing its protests previously on Alliance Party property.

East Belfast loyalist protest at City Hall

The protestors, who are carrying Union Jack flags, did a lap of the City Hall.

Earlier, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr called for the protest to be cancelled, however his plea fell on deaf ears.

He said that police could confirm that senior UVF and UDA figures were orchestrating the violence over the past few days across the province.

Police had braced themselves for possible trouble given the large numbers who have turned out in Belfast city centre.

Organisers had hoped to bring out 6,000 loyalists to show their anger at the decision to only fly the Union flag on 17 designated days of the year.

We haven’t gone away, Jim Dowson tells crowd

During the City Hall rally, Jim Dowson, a former right hand man to BNP leader Nick Griffin, addressed the crowd with a loud hailer.

In his broad Scottish accent, the anti-abortion campaigner told the crows: “We haven’t gone away you know,” a play on the words once spoke at the City Hall by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams when asked about the IRA.

A vote was passed on Monday night at Belfast City Council by 29 votes to 21 not to fly the flag on top of the City Hall Dome all year round.

Police reinforcements have been drafted into the city and scores of riot squad Landrovers are parked up in side streets with officers at the ready if trouble erupts.

The protest comes on the third last Saturday before Christmas which is seen as one of the biggest days of the year for hard pressed shoppers.

 

 

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