Northern Ireland police arrest children during riots

Four boys among several arrested during violent loyalist protests against restrictions on flying union flag at Belfast city hall

An 11-year-old boy is among several children arrested during overnight riots connected to the loyalist flag dispute in Northern Ireland.

The child was detained alongside four other boys, one of whom is 12, five youths and a 31-year-old man at two trouble spots in Lisburn.

The Belfast Telegraph journalist Adrian Rutherford was also beaten up and robbed by loyalist rioters in east Belfast, where 200 loyalists attacked police on the Newtonards Road. One police officer was injured after loyalists threw bottles, bricks, fireworks and paint bombs during the disturbances in the city.

There was violence in other parts of Greater Belfast as well as towns across Northern Ireland amid 80 separate protests. The Alliance party continued to be a particular focus of loyalist ire, with councillors from the non-sectarian party being verbally abused after loyalists stormed Carrickfergus town hall on Monday night.

The Alliance's compromise motion at Belfast city council two weeks ago resulted in restrictions being put on flying the union flag at city hall. Since then loyalist extremists have attacked the homes of Alliance members and several of the party's regional offices. Death threats have also been issued to Alliance's Belfast East MP, Naomi Long. The party has described the assaults, arson attacks and threats as a "full frontal attack on democracy".

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's assistant chief constable, Dave Jones, said on Monday night: "While most of the protests were peaceful, the violence witnessed in some areas tonight is totally unacceptable.

"This is now the third week of protests and I am appealing to everyone involved to take a step back from this. It cannot and should not continue. There were arrests this evening and more will follow as we now trawl through evidence gathered by officers out on the ground.

"I am appealing to those wishing to protest to consider how their actions are affecting the wider community who simply want to enjoy the festive period with their friends and families in peace."

Traders in Belfast have reported a severe downturn in city centre business as the loyalists hold mass demonstrations in the days running up to Christmas.

Appeals by the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland for the protests to end have fallen on deaf ears while promises from loyalist leaders that the demonstrations would be peaceful have been broken over the last 72 hours.