The Protestant hard-liners, however, have accused police of pursuing heavy-handed tactics that have worsened the riots. Police have provided no casualty figures for civilians, who often avoid hospital treatment so that they are not identified as rioters and arrested. More than 100 rioters have been arrested since Dec. 3. The Associated Press photographer in Belfast, Peter Morrison, suffered serious injuries to his head and hand when clubbed by policemen on Dec. 3 outside city hall.
The Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party said 10 Short Strand homes were damaged during Saturday's clashes. Sinn Fein councilman Niall O Donnghaile, who represents Short Strand, said it was the 15th illegal Protestant march past the Catholic enclave since last month. He said the marchers clearly wanted to attack Short Strand residents.
"People do not come to 'peaceful protests' armed with bricks, bottles, golf balls and fireworks," O Donnghaile said of the Protestant marchers.
Belfast used to have a strong Protestant majority, but the Dec. 3 vote demonstrated that Catholics have gained the democratic upper hand, stoking Protestant anxiety that one day Northern Ireland could be merged with the Republic of Ireland as many Catholics want.
Sinn Fein council members had wanted to remove the British flag completely from city hall, where the Union Jack had flown continuously for more than a century. But they accepted a compromise motion that would allow the UK flag to be raised on 18 official days annually, the same rule already observed on many British government buildings throughout the United Kingdom.