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Violent demonstrations injure dozens of police in Northern Ireland

From Peter Taggart, for CNN
January 6, 2013 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Pro-British protests erupted hours after nine officers were injured in rioting.
Pro-British protests erupted hours after nine officers were injured in rioting.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Politicians, clergy and community leaders meet to discuss ways to end the violence
  • Police say 52 officers have been wounded in weeks of violence
  • Protesters pelted officers with petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks, police say
  • Protests have rocked parts of Northern Ireland since a vote on the union flag

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Petrol bombs, smoke canisters and hurled bricks have injured dozens of police during weeks of violence in Northern Ireland, officials said Sunday.

At least 52 officers have been wounded since pro-British protests erupted in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast last month, police said. Authorities have arrested 70 people in connection with the violence.

Tensions have been high since City Council members there voted a month ago to stop flying the Union Jack flag year-round, restricting it instead to certain days.

Politicians, clergy and community leaders were meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss ways of ending the unrest.

The meeting came a day after the Police Service of Northern Ireland said its officers deployed water cannons and fired plastic bullets Saturday night at a crowd of more than 100 demonstrators who were hurling fireworks and bricks at them.

On Friday night, more than 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers during serious disorder in the same part of the city. Officers were also pelted with ball bearings, fireworks and masonry, police said.

Another officer was hurt Friday in the Newtownabbey area, police said, where bottles and bricks were thrown at police in the course of a protest lasting several hours.

Northern Ireland's political leaders have called for an end to the pro-British protests, which were prompted by the vote to limit display of the union flag of the United Kingdom.

The disorder follows a summer of heightened tensions between Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant communities. Riots in September left dozens of police officers hurt.

The recent violence follows more than a decade during which Northern Ireland has made steady progress toward lasting peace and stability.

On Sunday, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said officers were prepared for more violence.

"You may be assured there will be sufficient resources in the event of more disorder for however long is necessary," Chief Constable Matt Baggott said in a statement. "The police service will continue to do everything possible to maintain law and order and we will deal firmly with outbreaks of violence."

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