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11 Dec, 2012 09:23

Belfast flag protest: Masked gang firebombs police car (VIDEO)

A policewoman in Belfast was nearly killed after a gang firebombed her car. The attack came as sporadic violence continues in the Northern Irish capital over the restriction on flying the Union Jack over City Hall.

The unmarked car was parked outside of the offices of the Alliance Party MP Naomi Long, when a 15-strong gang targeted it on Monday night.PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton described the attack as “a planned attempt to kill a police officer” in an interview with Sky News."Clearly, we've had an attempted murder of a female colleague. What can I say except I am very angry," he said. The female officer escaped with her life. The incident, which is the worst of those reported over the most recent night of violence, resulted in no injuries, the police said. Police were also targeted by violent demonstrators with Molotov cocktails and rocks in a separate incident in south Belfast. Law enforcers responded with water cannons to repel the attackers. In other parts of the city peaceful protests were carried out, with Union Flag waving loyalists filling the streets as police watched from the sidelines. Some 28 officers have thus far been injured in the violence. Those involved in the rioting are mostly young people, with one of the arrestees being as young as 13.

Unionists blame the Alliance Party for siding with nationalists in the December 3 vote to restrict the flying of the Union Flag over City Hall, a decision which triggered the rioting. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) distanced itself from the violent attacks."The masked men responsible do not act in the name of our Union Flag. They are bringing shame on it. My prayers are with the police officers at the centre of this attack," said Peter Robinson, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the DUP. He also branded the torching of the car with police officers inside as “a despicable act of terror.”Robinson is expected to continue talks with Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the other North Ireland Ulster Unionist Party, to try to form a strategy to curb tensions and end the violence.

The conflict in North Ireland between those who say the land should remain under British rule and those favoring independence and possible reunification with the Republic of Ireland has remained a seemingly intractable issue for centuries.Between 1961 and 2001, some 3,500 people were killed in related violence, though a 1998 peace agreement largely moved the conflict from the streets to the avenues of politics.