The Union flag was flying over Belfast City Hall on Wednesday morning to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's 31st birthday, for the first time since the controversial decision to only raise it on designated days.

A special meeting of unionist representatives in Northern Ireland has been called in a bid to end loyalist unrest the decision sparked.

Loyalists pelted police with bottles and stones in a new outbreak of trouble in east Belfast last night amid warnings that potential investors are turning away because of the street violence.

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Loyalist Protestors converge on Belfast city hall.


With riot police again facing hundreds of masked men around the lower Newtownards Road area, there is no sign of a halt to the protests.

Fireworks, rocks, golf balls and petrol bombs were fired at police lines on the sixth consecutive night of violence in the confined flashpoint area of east Belfast.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson confirmed that representatives of the various unionist parties will meet at Stormont tomorrow to discuss the trouble, but leaders centrally involved in the protests who are threatening to take their campaign on to the streets of Dublin on Saturday have pledged they want no part in the discussions.

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The Union flag flying over Belfast City Hall on Wednesday morning

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed jobs would be lost and shops shut unless there is an immediate end to the trouble.

CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth warned: "We are already aware of investors who have lost interest because of these disruptions."

The unrest has continued intermittently since Belfast City Council's decision last month to reduce the number of days the flag flies to 18 days. A total of 66 officers have been hurt and 104 arrests made since the protests started a month ago.
Businesses, especially restaurant owners, said the disruption has had a disastrous impact on trade.

On Monday night, in a fierce debate over raising the flag at the height of the tensions, opposing politicians accused each other of political game-playing over the birthday flag-raising.

Democratic Unionist councillor for east Belfast Robin Newton accused McVeigh and Sinn Fein of "bulldozing" the flag vote through council.

"It was purely a political decision, a pure political decision," he said, rejecting the claims that unionists had not shown leadership.


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  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalist Flag protestors, converge on Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • ADDS DATE - Loyalists set up burning barricades on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only. 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. (AP Photo/PA, Paul Faith) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday January 7, 2013. See PA story ULSTER Protests. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

  • Police use water cannon to disperse rioting Loyalists on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only. 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. (AP Photo/PA, Paul Faith) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday January 7, 2013. See PA story ULSTER Protests. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

  • Loyalists set up burning barricades on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only. 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. (AP Photo/PA, Paul Faith) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday January 7, 2013. See PA story ULSTER Protests. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists confront police in Belfast, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists set up burning barricades and on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalist Flag protestors, converge on Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    A Loyalist Flag protestors, on the wall of Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalist Flag protestors, converge on Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalist Flag protestors, converge on Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists set up burning barricades and on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalist Flag protestors, sitting in a bus shelter near to Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    A Loyalist Flag protestors, on the wall of Belfast City Hall, a month after the City Council decided to fly the union flag on designated days only.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists block the Sandy Row area of Belfast, other roads across they city were also blocked tonight as part of a mass protest over flags. The pickets caused disruption for rush hour traffic. Bus operator Translink said it was suspending most of its Metro services into and out of the city centre.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists block the Sandy Row area of Belfast, other roads across they city were also blocked tonight as part of a mass protest over flags. The pickets caused disruption for rush hour traffic. Bus operator Translink said it was suspending most of its Metro services into and out of the city centre.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists block the Sandy Row area of Belfast, other roads across they city were also blocked tonight as part of a mass protest over flags. The pickets caused disruption for rush hour traffic. Bus operator Translink said it was suspending most of its Metro services into and out of the city centre.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists block the Sandy Row area of Belfast, other roads across they city were also blocked tonight as part of a mass protest over flags. The pickets caused disruption for rush hour traffic. Bus operator Translink said it was suspending most of its Metro services into and out of the city centre.

  • Union Flag protests

    A Christmas shopper makes her way between Police and Loyalist protestors ,at Belfast City Hall.

  • Union Flag protests

    Police keep Loyalists protestors on the footpath at Belfast City Hall.

  • Union Flag protests

    Loyalists protestors at Belfast City Hall.

  • Union Flag protests

    Protesting Loyalists block a road in east Belfast.

  • Union Flag protests

    A Police Landrover with the remains of a petrol bomb, thrown by protesting Loyalists in east Belfast.

  • Union Flag protests

    A burned out car during disturbances which erupted in east Belfast, with police coming under attack for a fourth night in a row.

  • Union Flag protests

    Police on patrol during disturbances which erupted in east Belfast, with police coming under attack for a fourth night in a row.

  • Union Flag protests

    A burned out car during disturbances which erupted in east Belfast, with police coming under attack for a fourth night in a row.