POLICE are treating an attack by loyalists on a police officer in Belfast last night as attempted murder.
• Gang of 15 men threw petrol bomb at unmarked police car outside offices of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long
• Protests continuining in south and east Belfast over decision by city council to restrict flying Union flag at the city hall
• Talks planned for today between Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the DUP Peter Robinson and leader of the UUP Mike Nesbitt
A gang of 15 men tossed a petrol bomb into his unmarked vehicle after surrounding and smashing it outside the offices of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long.
It was the worst incident in another night of sporadic violence in parts of east and south Belfast involving loyalists who took to the streets again in protest against a decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the officer was lucky to escape with his life outside the MP’s office on the Newtownards Road.
He said last night: “This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger and it is fortunate there were no injuries.”
Officers were also attacked with petrol bombs in south Belfast close to the M1.
More talks are planned today between Peter Robinson, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, with Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, to try to agree some sort of political strategy to ease tensions and end the violence.
It follows a meeting between the pair in Belfast yesterday.
They have been heavily criticised by nationalist representatives over their leadership since the trouble flared a week ago.
The trouble followed a council decision to limit the flying of the Union flag to designated days. Ms Long’s Alliance Party has been blamed by loyalists for supporting the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein in pushing through the vote to lower the flag.
Last night she said there could be no justification for the attacks.
She added: “If Northern Ireland is to move forward then we need a strict adherence to the rule of law and respect for the democratic process. We need this urgently before lives are lost.”
There were also protests last night in Limavady, Co Londonderry, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, Ballycastle, Co Antrim, and Cookstown, Co Tyrone, where the car of a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ian McCrea, was surrounded by angry loyalists.
Several roads in Belfast were blocked and at one stage police were also attacked with petrol bombs and fireworks at Broadway, not far from the M1.
Meanwhile in Armagh city, Sinn Fein accused masked loyalists of attacking a bar, the Cuchulainn, after staging an impromptu march with no police presence.
They claimed windows were smashed and fireworks thrown. A statement said: “The protests, intimidation and violence needs to end and unionist politicians need to be to the fore using whatever influence they have in ensuring this happens.”
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the some of the violence was intense and there was clearly some paramilitary involvement.
It was fortunate no one was seriously injured, he claimed, adding that the situation in some areas was very tense.
He said: “There has to be a collective voice to bring this to an end.”
Last week Ms Long was told by police to stay away from her home and her office on Newtownards Road because of fears for her safety. Constituency offices used by the party were also attacked in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, and Bangor, Co Down.
Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt have already called for loyalist restraint, and according to a statement last night they agreed to work on a “joint basis with a view to urgently bringing forward political proposals to address widespread concerns across the community”.