BELFAST: Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has appealed for loyalists to suspend all union flag street protests.
He was speaking after a spate of violence over the vote to stop flying it every day at Belfast City Hall.
Police have been attacked in rioting and premises of the centre-ground Alliance Party have also been targeted. hief Constable Matt Baggott criticised the violence surrounding the protests.
Baggott said that paramilitaries had been present at some of the protests and police would examine if there was a “conspiracy.”
Police said that some roads had been blocked by loyalist protesters in north and south Belfast.
Robinson said he wanted a “shared future” but added that this would not involve a “diminution of our Britishness.”
“People’s right to protest is justified and legitimate and should be defended,” he said.
Robinson said: “However, my advice is that street protests should be suspended by those responsible for organising them in the wider interests of a peaceful society and to ensure their protests are not used by others to launch a campaign of violence.”
In Ballymena on Thursday night, there was minor trouble when a small group of loyalists attacked police Land Rovers and cars in Linenhall Street.
They ran away when riot police moved in. Police are still in the area but traffic is moving freely through the town centre.
Robinson was heavily critical of the decision to restrict the flying of the union flag to about 20 designated days, saying to celebrate the move as a compromise was “perverse.”
He called on the council to back a plan to have it flown every day near the cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance at City Hall, and said his party was seeking to extend the number of days on which the Union flag flies at Stormont.