A motion in Belfast to stop flying the British Union flag year-round touched off the riots, but the issues run deeper.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Six nights of riots, death threats issued against politicians, and a constituency office set alight. Welcome to the "New Northern Ireland."
The cause? A motion passed Monday night by Belfast City Council to stop flying the British Union flag 365 days a year. The motion, brought by the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), to stop flying the flag altogether was defeated, but a compromise measure, brought to the table by the liberal Alliance Party, suggesting the flag be flown on 18 to 20 state occasions annually was passed. The compromise motion brings City Hall into line with government buildings such as Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Violence erupted immediately: approximately 300 pro-British loyalists immediately attacked Belfast City Hall, at the time hosting a Christmas market, breaking their way in using bolt cutters. In a confrontation with police, at least 19 people were injured, including 18 police officers and Associated Press photographer Peter Morrison.
Clashes have continued every night since, including serious violence, with police claiming it is orchestrated by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitary group. Homes and offices of the Alliance Party have been attacked and one Alliance lawmaker, Naomi Long, received a death threat. Police have charged 19 people since Friday.
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