BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Northern Ireland police used water cannons to fend off brick-hurling protesters in Belfast on Saturday as violent demonstrations over flying the British flag stretched into a third straight day.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was investigating reports that a number of shots were fired at police lines. A 38-year-man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said.
More than 1,000 demonstrators marched on Belfast's city hall earlier Saturday afternoon amid a heavy police presence. While the rally passed largely without incident, police then came under attack from a mob of more than 100 people hurling bricks and fireworks. Two men were arrested, police said.
Protesters have been out in force — with sometimes violent results — since a Dec. 3 decision by Belfast City Council to stop flying the British flag year-round.
Such issues of symbolism frequently inflame sectarian passions in Northern Ireland, where Protestants mainly want to stay in the United Kingdom and Catholics want to unite with the Republic of Ireland.
Many Protestants want the council to reverse its decision about the flag, and dozens of police have been injured in ensuing demonstrations.
Saturday's flare-up followed a tense Friday night in Belfast when nine police officers were injured and 18 rioters arrested during rioting. Police said that more than 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers, along with ball bearings, fireworks and bricks as they responded to clashes in Protestant sections of the city.
Similar clashes on Thursday saw 10 police injured in east Belfast.
The controversy has also seen death threats made against politicians.