Police wounded in Belfast loyalist riot

Last updated 13:35 04/12/2012

ANGRY SCENES: Loyalists clash with police officers outside the City Hall in Belfast.

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At least five police officers were wounded during a riot at Belfast city hall in Northern Ireland after Irish nationalist councillors voted to remove the British flag from the building on all but 17 days of the year.

Hundreds of protesters, many carrying British flags, clashed with police after nationalist councillors from Sinn Fein and the SDLP voted to take down the flag which has flown above the city hall every day since the building was opened in 1906.

An attempt to storm the building was repelled by police.

A photographer from the Press Association and two security guards were injured in the disorder and two female police officers were treated in hospital, a police spokeswoman said.

The photographer has described being clubbed by at least one policeman as he found himself trapped between baton-swinging officers and the Protestant crowd near the rear iron gates.

He suffered a head wound and a broken finger that is expected to require plastic surgery.

''A club came down on my hand as I was taking pictures and caught my finger really bad. It was right on the camera trigger. There's blood all over my camera,'' Peter Morrison said in an interview from his bed at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

''The police appeared to be panicked and thought they were going to be overrun by the crowd. They were shouting and screaming at the crowd to get back in the street,'' said Morrison, a Belfast native who has covered many Northern Ireland riots for the past two decades.

He said a police club also gashed his head, requiring stitches. He never lost consciousness.  

The flag decision means it will be flown only 17 days during the year, as is the case at the provincial assembly at Stormont in the British-controlled province.

Nationalist and Unionist parties share power in the provincial assembly under a 1998 peace deal that largely ended 30 years of sectarian violence in which more than 3,600 people died.

Nationalist parties, which aspire to break from London and join a united Ireland, last year for the first time secured more seats on the council than Unionist parties, which support maintaining Northern Ireland's position in the United Kingdom.

Democratic Unionist Party councillor Ruth Patterson described Monday's vote as ''divisive, destructive and disrespectful of anything remotely Protestant, anything remotely British''.

- Reuters and AP

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