BELFAST, Northern Ireland — At least 29 police were injured Saturday as protesters clashed in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast in an ongoing dispute about the province’s ties to Britain.
About 1,000 British loyalists demonstrated peacefully at first until they ran into a group of Irish nationalists in the city’s east, sparking renewed fighting.
Police attempted to control the violence with water cannons and rubber bullets. Demonstrators responded by throwing rocks and firecrackers and torching cars.
Four of the injured police had to be taken to hospital.
The protests began six weeks ago when the city council, which now has a stronger Catholic, pro-Ireland faction, voted to hoist the Union Jack only on designated days. Previously, the flag had been displayed every day.
Protestant loyalists see the move as an attack upon the region’s ties to Britain. Many Catholics would prefer to leave Britain and merge with Republic of Ireland.
Around 70 police officers have been injured and 100 people arrested in the protests. Four more police injuries were also noted during Friday clashes, police said.
Police said several key intersections have been blocked by demonstrators.
The Belfast Telegraph also reported the discovery of a pipe bomb along a road. Traffic movement was severely limited due to the demonstrations and clashes and many residents had abandoned the city to avoid any violence.
There was also a successful countermovement to turn the city centre into a party zone, in an effort to ease tensions.
Many protesters have called the flag decision a step too far, with Protestant nationalists, who used to hold most political power in the region, saying they have become increasingly sidelined since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that until recently had seemed to have the region on the path towards peace.
A summit to find a peaceful solution is planned for the coming week among Northern Ireland Premier Peter Robinson; his deputy Martin McGuinness, from Sinn Fein, the main Catholic party; Britain’s Northern Ireland Minister Theresa Villiers; and Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore.