Northern Ireland flag riots stir old sectarian fears
Belfast has experienced a week of night-rioting after a decision to limit the number of days the union flag is hoisted at City Hall in the Northern Ireland capital. Clashes with police erupted after violent protests by loyalists angered over the limited use of the flag. Most recently, police have launched water cannons into rioting crowds. In preceding nights, rocks, bricks, fireworks, and gas bombs were thrown at police and property, costing the Belfast police force an estimated £7 million since protests began in December.
Several roads in East Belfast have been closed along with access to Belfast International Airport via metro services. Further disruption has come in the form of interrupted access to Ravenhill stadium for the Heineken pool match.
The conflict stems from a December 3 decision to limit the number of days the union flag will fly over city hall to 18 days out of the year. The days will include birthdays of the royal family, the first of which occurred Wednesday with the 31st birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Despite interruptions, a counter-protest has been organized through social media to maintain business for Belfast pubs and restaurants. The movement has been dubbed “Operation Sit-In,” and encourages people to continue to enjoy city nightlife while being aware of where protesters will be stationed.