15/01/2013

Bus Driver Injured In Flag Violence

A bus driver has been injured in another night of flag-related violence in Belfast.

Translink ceased all metro services to and from east Belfast early yesterday evening, following reports that one of their staff had been attacked on the Newtownards Road at about 19:30.

The bus was attacked by people throwing stones and it is understood the driver was taken to hospital with cuts to his face.

There were two reported bus-hijackings yesterday following violent protests over the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Police were yet again called to dissipate the violence when a Catholic Church in the Short Strand area came under fire as protesters threw stones bottles and petrol bombs.

One police officer was injured during the attack on St Matthew’s church.

A senior loyalist in east Belfast told the BBC he believes the violence was started by rioters from the loyalist community.

Jim Wilson said he saw a crowd of masked loyalist youths throwing bricks and bottles from the Newtownards Road and that, when police arrived, they too came under fire.

Mr Wilson said a large crowd of nationalists from the Short Strand area then arrived at the interface and targeted houses on the loyalist side in retaliation.

Sinn Féin East Belfast Representative Niall O’Donnghaile said a Special Needs group was forced to flee from St. Matthews Parochial Hall in a "blatant, well planned and organised sectarian attack".

"Tonight’s attack has comes after the stone throwing on Saturday and wholesale intimidation of this community over the past five weeks. It is unacceptable and we need to hear unequivocal condemnation from local unionist leaders, not the sort of excuses for violence we have had to listen to in recent weeks," he said.

There were also a number of peaceful loyalist protests last night, but police say two men aged 26 and 70 have been arrested following a protest in Belfast's Great Victoria Street.

A 16-year-old boy is also understood to have been detained by the PSNI following a flag demonstration in Ballymena.

Loyalists have been demonstrating since Belfast city Council voted to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall on 3 December.

(IT)

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