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Protestant militants attack Belfast police as protests over lowering of UK flag reach 40th day

Crowds of militant Protestants have attacked police and blocked roads across Belfast as protests over Belfast City Council's decision to lower the British flag reached their 40th day.

Protesters, many of them bedecked in British flags and related emblems, blocked two dozen roads at rush hour Friday night. Thousands of workers fled the city early in expectation of what has become common since Catholic council members voted Dec. 3 to remove the British flag from city hall except for 18 official days annually.

Police say their officers have suffered barrages of firebombs, fireworks, bottles, rocks and bricks in the Belfast suburbs of Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus. They have responded with blasts from mobile water cannons and plastic bullets.

Northern Ireland's major freeway also has been closed because of a bomb alert.