IT’S a battle for the hearts and minds of the public on Friday evening.
‘Operation Standstill’ – the organised province-wide protest against the decision to only fly the Union flag at Belfast City Hall on designated days got underway at 6pm.
And for the first time, those opposed to the Union flag protests launched their own rallying call on social network sites: ‘Operation Sit-In’.
It was organised to support the hard-pressed pub, restaurants and shops in Belfast City Centre who watched £15 million out the city’s economy since the protests started after the council’s decision on December 3.
At one point, the idea had received more than 12,000 retweets on Twitter as people were urged to vote with their feet and go out and support licensed premises instead of sitting in in buses and cars in gridlock travel.
Horatio Todd’s in east Belfast has come up with a ‘Operation Sit-In’ cocktail to mark the occasion.
On Friday evening, police have come under attack following a number of Union flag protests.
It is reported that a peaceful protest in Carrick has turned ugly with running battles between some protestors and police who have responded with baton rounds.
It is also reported that trouble has erupted around the Ballybeen estate in Dundonald.
A 500-strong has gathered in east Belfast.
A loyalist source said: “These are co-ordinated attacks to spread the PSNI resources as thinly as possible.”
Police have reported a number of roads across the greater Belfast area have been closed because of protests.
The O’Neills Road roundabout at Cloughfern, Newtownabbey has been closed due an outbreak of rioting following a protest.
It is estimated a crowd of around 300 are involving in attacking police.
A security source: “It is heavy going. Officers are being attacked a continuous shower of petrol bombs.”
A bus has reportedly been hijacked and set on fire in the Rathcoole estate.
And a police landrover has also been hit with a petrol as trouble erupted on the estate.
Police have come under attack with petrol bombs, bricks and fireworks.
The PSNI has now deployed water cannon into the Rathcoole estate in a bid to disperse rioters.
Translink have withdrawn all Metro services in Belfast except the NO 10 to west Belfast.
It is also being reported that a GP, on his way to visit a sick cancer patient, was twice turned away by protestors.
The other roads include:
* the Ormeau Road at the public library;
* the Newtownards Road at McDonald’s;
* the Ravenhill Road at junction its junction with My Lady’s Road.
* the Upper Malone Road at Malton Drive;
* Sandy Row;
* Templemore Ave;
* Hesketh Road;
*the Knock Road at junction with Glen Road.
At 7 pm, the PSNI said that the Westlink between Broadway and Grosvenor Road has been closed due to a security alert.