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Flag removals ignite more riots

Further unrest on the streets of the North has been caused by the removal of flags in loyalist areas.

Last week saw yet more rioting, as a 100-strong crowd attacked police in an attempt to get near nationalist homes in Portadown, County Armagh. It was claimed the removal of Union Jack flags from lampposts by nationalists had sparked the violent reaction by the loyalist mob, echoing recent scenes in Ballyclare, County Antrim, in which riots began after police officers removed flags.

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Last Friday's, skirmishes in Portadown saw PSNI officers fire 19 baton rounds in a bid to control the crowd at the Obins Street flashpoint area of the town.

No serious injuries were reported, but police said a number of Land Rovers sustained "substantial damage."

The MP for Upper Bann, David Simpson of the Democratic Unionist Party, blamed nationalists for starting the trouble by allegedly removing the flags in the first place.

Towns and cities across the North are routinely covered with unionist flags during the summer Orange Order marching season, including flags of illegal loyalist terror groups such as the UDA and UVF.

"The initial rioting was provoked by nationalists firing missiles and removing Union flags from mainly unionist areas," Simpson said.

"However, the violence on Friday evening will not stop such unprovoked attacks from nationalists. The rioting only serves to disrupt and deface the locality."

A PSNI superintendent said police became aware of initial plans for a "peaceful" protest by the loyalists, but that the crowd soon began attacking officers.

"It would appear that there was faceless individuals within the crowd who were intent on violence."

Following the unrest, police revealed they made three arrests, and three people have been brought before the courts on charges including riotous behavior and criminal damage.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of riots, including in nationalist areas of Belfast following the main Twelfth parades, prompted politicians to call an emergency meeting at Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

First Minister Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, led calls for calm at the various flashpoints, including Ardoyne in North Belfast, which has seen rioting for the third year in a row.

This year, 16 officers were injured at Ardoyne, and a joint statement from the first and deputy first minister said: "Those involved in rioting must realize it only results in damaging their local community. We would appeal for calm and ask everyone to think of the consequences of their actions."

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