Northern Ireland Clashes: Four Officers Injured

Four police officers have been injured after more than 30 petrol bombs and other missiles were hurled at them in another night of Union flag demonstrations in Northern Ireland.

The most serious disorder was in Carrickfergus and the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey, on the northern outskirts of Belfast.

A bus was also set on fire during the disorder. Police deployed water cannon in an attempt to restore calm and two people were arrested.

A small viable pipe bomb was found on the Westlink dual carriageway in Belfast, but it was unclear whether it was linked to the loyalist disorder.

There were widespread and mostly peaceful protests across Northern Ireland on Friday night in co-ordinated action dubbed Operation Standstill by organisers.

Many roads were blocked off between 6pm and 8pm as loyalist protesters again took to the streets to voice their opposition to Belfast City Council's decision to limit the number of days the Union flag flies at City Hall.

Rugby fans travelling to Ravenhill, in east Belfast, for Ulster's crunch Heineken Cup game against Glasgow faced major disruption due to the pickets.

But the city centre was not as empty as might have been expected after an online campaign urged people to defy the protests.

They were called on to stage an "Operation sit-in" in cafes, pubs and restaurants to give businesses hit by the six-week campaign of street action a much-needed boost.

Restaurateur Michael Deane told Sky News the crisis has been a blow to his business but that he refused to give up.

"Belfast is a fabulous city," he said.

"Whether I would come to visit Belfast, looking from outside (at) what you see on the television, no, I probably wouldn't.

"But let's hope this all goes away very quickly."

As loyalists called people onto the streets to protest, young church leaders called them to prayer.

Andrew Masters, from the Christian organisation called What Now?, told Sky News: "We're asking people to pray at 11:11 every day and for two real simple prayers: that peace would come and hope would come and that things that have been lost - the finance, the business, the hope - would be returned."

Around 70 police officers have been injured and more than 100 people arrested in six weeks of trouble since Belfast City Council's ruling on the Union flag.

The Democratic Unionist Party and Progressive Unionist Party have challenged the council over the decision, claiming it contravenes its equality policy.

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said the flag policy was introduced after a democratic decision elected members.

She said: "The council has taken legal advice throughout this process and the decision is in keeping with the outcome of the equality impact assessment that was undertaken in line with the advice of the Equality Commission.

"The designated days agreed are in keeping with those notified by the UK Government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport."

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