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Belfast violence continues a third day

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland police used water cannons to fend off brick-hurling protesters in Belfast yesterday as violent demonstrations over flying the British flag stretched into a third straight day.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was investigating reports of shots being fired at police lines. A 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said.

More than 1,000 demonstrators marched on Belfast's City Hall earlier in the afternoon amid a heavy police presence. While the rally passed largely without incident, police were attacked by a mob of more than 100 people hurling bricks and fireworks. Two men were arrested, police said.

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 enflame sectarian passions in Northern Ireland, where Protestants mainly want to stay in the United Kingdom, while most Catholics want to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

Many Protestants want the council to reverse its decision about the flag.

Yesterday's flare-up followed a tense Friday night in Belfast when nine officers were injured and 18 protesters arrested during rioting. Police said that more than 30 gasoline bombs were thrown at officers, along with ball bearings, fireworks and bricks.

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