Riots in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast have continued for a fourth consecutive night. The unrest stems from the removal of a British flag from the Belfast City Hall.
A crowd attacked policemen patrolling the east of the city on Sunday, throwing bricks, fireworks and bottles. In the last four nights of violence, 52 police officers have been injured and 70 people have been arrested.
The hostility surrounds the removal of a British flag from the Belfast City Hall, which sparked rioting from pro-British militants. On Saturday, shots were fired at police during a day of street battles in which rioters attacked officers with petrol bombs, bricks and other missiles.
It is some of the worst violence in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace accord ended 30 years of conflict, in which Catholic nationalists seeking a union with Ireland fought British forces and mainly Protestant loyalists. The "troubles" left at least 3,500 people dead.
Police had said that the initial violence beginning in December was orchestrated in part by pro-British militant groups. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said the most recent attacks showed that this was clearly the case.
"What it quite clearly demonstrates is the fact that paramilitaries have hijacked this flags protest issue and they have now turned their guns on the police," federation chairman Terry Spence told the BBC.
"It is very clear that there are leading members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) who are exploiting this and are organizing and orchestrating this violence against police officers who are out there trying to uphold the law and prevent anarchy on our streets," Spence added.
The UVF and the Ulster Freedom Fighters are Northern Ireland's main loyalist groups. They ceased hostilities in 2007, and decommissioned their arms following the signing of the peace deal.
British loyalists began rioting in early December after a vote by mostly nationalist pro-Irish councilors ended the century-long tradition of flying the British flag from the city hall.
dr/ch (Reuters, AFP, dpa)