Rioting broke out in Belfast in the latest violence to flare up in Northern Ireland over a decision by councillors not to fly the British flag all year round.

Tensions have risen in the British province since Belfast’s council voted on Monday to limit the number of days the Union Jack can fly over the City Hall to 17, outraging loyalists who believe Northern Ireland should retain strong links to Britain.

Two police officers were injured — one of them hospitalised — during clashes close to the city centre last night, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Two cars were set alight while eyewitnesses said protesters hurled stones, bricks and bottles at the police.

A PSNI spokeswoman said the force was dealing with “minor disturbances” in Belfast.

Loyalists have held nightly protests in several parts of Northern Ireland since Monday’s ruling and there are plans for a major demonstration in central Belfast today.

A Belfast member of parliament, Naomi Long, had received a death threat yesterday for her non-sectarian Alliance party’s support for the change in flag policy.

Two bombs were also found in other parts of Northern Ireland in a sign of the lingering sectarian tensions despite the peace process, which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence in the 1990s.

The fresh unrest came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Northern Ireland yesterday, winning praise from the province’s leaders for her role in helping to build peace.

Some 3,500 people died in the three decades of violence between Northern Irish Protestants who favoured continued union with Britain, and Catholics seeking a unified Ireland.

A 1998 peace agreement largely ended the conflict, but sporadic unrest and bomb threats continue as dissident offshoots remain violently opposed to the power-sharing government in Belfast, formed of Catholic and Protestant parties.

(This article was published on December 8, 2012)
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