Burning car in Castlereagh Street, east Belfast

Burning car in Castlereagh Street, east Belfast

THE First Minister has condemned Saturday’s violence in east Belfast which left 29 police officers injured.

Peter Robinson said the flag issue should only be tackled through democratic means, ahead of a meeting with senior politicians from Belfast, Dublin and London.

Saturday’s violence on the streets of east Belfast was the worst so far.

Nationalist youths from the Short Strand attacked loyalist marchers heading back to east Belfast.

Hand to hand fighting starting between both sides before the police intervened to try and separate them.

Police fired six baton rounds, a car was hijacked and set on fire and four PSNI officers were taken to hospital. Two have been discharged, but two still remain in hospital receving treatment.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot praised the professionalism of his officers who had come under sustained attack over several hours.

It was the latest in a series of protests held by loyalists over the Belfast City Council vote last month to restrict the flying of the Union flag at official buildings to 18 designated days.

“There are political issues and people that feel disengaged and people that feel if we are trying to build a shared future they are not getting their share,” the DUP leader said.

“It is no accident that the violence is occurring predominantly in those areas that are considered to be suffering from deprivation.”

He said the decision to limit the flying of the Union flag was supported by the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, and Mr Robinson said he believed it was an incorrect move.

“It was a bad decision but the only way of addressing the bad decision is through the democratic process,” he said.

Peter Robinson calls for talks and an end to violence

Peter Robinson calls for talks and an end to violence

Mr Robinson, along with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, is due to meet with the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers next week to discuss the flag dispute.

Mr Gilmore, who is also the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the violence is being orchestrated.

“Those behind it are known criminals, intent on creating chaos.

“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,” he said.

In total, 99 officers have been injured in five weeks of disorder across Northern Ireland, with much of the unrest concentrated on east Belfast.

So far police revealed 110 arrests have been made, with 84 charged, eight reported to the Public Prosecution Service, 17 released on bail and one adult cautioned.

Last week unionist representatives gathered at Parliament Buildings to discuss issues of concern to loyalists, during the first meeting of the newly-formed Unionist Forum.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the forum “offered a positive alternative” to the disorder.

“Street violence from so-called unionists, no matter what age, advances nothing but the cause of Irish nationalism. It is high time those involved in rioting realised they are destroying the very cause the hope to promote.”

But politicians from other parties have called for more cross-community talks to dispel tensions.

Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said people are angry at the disruption.

“This violence has shown the deep rooted divisions that still exist in our society. We must see action to deliver a truly shared future.

“This can only be done through working together to seek shared solutions, not through the establishment of groups which seek to exclude those whose viewpoint may differ from yours.”

A second peace rally is behind held at Belfast City Hall at 12.30pm on Sunday, where peaceful campaigners intend to hold five minutes of noise in opposition to the violent outbreaks.





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