Northern Ireland fighting rages on

Updated 07 January 2013
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Northern Ireland fighting rages on

BELFAST: Northern Irish police came under attack by pro-British loyalists as the province’s first minister branded rioters “a disgrace” and said they were playing into the hands of rival militant nationalists.
Rioting began a month ago after a vote by mostly nationalist pro-Irish councilors to end the century-old tradition of flying the British flag from Belfast City Hall every day unleashed the most sustained period of violence in the city for years.
On Friday, police said officers came under attack in the east of the city by masked mobs hurling petrol bombs, rocks and fireworks.
A number of officers were injured, several arrests were made and police deployed water cannon to control a crowd t hat a t one point swelled to 400 protesters.
First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the pre-eminent Protestant group, the Democratic Unionist Party, called the decision to take down the flag “ill-considered and provocative” but said the attacks must end.
“The violence visited on (police) is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified,” said Robinson, whose party shares power with deputy first minister and ex-Irish Republican Army commander Martin McGuinness’ Sinn Fein Party
“Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims.”
More than 40 police officers were injured in the initial wave of fighting, which stopped over Christmas, only to resume on Thursday when a further 10 police officers were hurt as the community divisions were exposed once more.
At least 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s darkest period as Catholic nationalists seeking union with Ireland fought British security forces and mainly Protestant loyalists determined to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Anti-British Catholic dissident groups, responsible for the killing of three police officers and two soldiers since 2009, have so far not reacted violently to the flag protests, limiting the threat to Northern Ireland’s 15-year-old peace.
Another demonstration calling for reinstating the Union Flag held outside City Hall yesterday while some loyalists pledged to hold a protest in Dublin the following Saturday.


Beijing protests US warship operation in South China Sea

Updated 26 min 11 sec ago
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Beijing protests US warship operation in South China Sea

BEIJING: China has voiced “strong dissatisfaction” after two US warships sailed by an island claimed by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, adding to simmering tensions in the strategic waterway.
The foreign ministry issued a statement expressing “resolute opposition” to the US sail-by of the territory in the disputed Paracel Island chain on Sunday.
The US military conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation” voyages in the South China Sea to contest Beijing’s assertion of territorial rights in the area, although the US has no claims of its own in the disputed region.
The US Navy’s Higgins and Antietam warships, a destroyer and cruiser respectively, entered China’s territorial waters without permission and were met by the Chinese Navy, which “conducted verification and identification of US ships according to law and warned them to leave,” the ministry said.
State-run news agency Xinhua said the two vessels were “expelled” from the waters.
The operation was conducted just over a week after Beijing flew nuclear-capable bombers to a disputed island in a bold powerplay to show its military might and boost its territorial claims in the area.
The move prompted immediate criticism from the US, which last week pulled its invitation to China to join maritime exercises in the Pacific because of Beijing’s “continued militarization” of the South China Sea.
Beijing has been building artificial islands to reinforce its claim over most of the resource-rich South China Sea despite protests from Southeast Asian countries.
Its neighbors, particularly some of those involved in maritime disputes over the waters, have expressed fears China could eventually restrict freedom of navigation and overflight.