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16 Belfast police injured while separating Catholic, Protestant crowds in sectarian flashpoint

  • 5729db5376a56901260f6a7067001886.jpg

    Riot police stand next to a burned out car after Loyalist protesters attacked police lines, in east BelfastNorthern Ireland, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013. Police used water cannons as four officers were injured during sectarian clashes between loyalists and republicans in east Belfast, Saturday. Trouble flared after a city centre demonstration against the council's decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown from City Hall (AP Photo/Paul Faith/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT (The Associated Press)

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    A police officer is injured after Loyalist protesters attacked police lines, at the Albertbridge Road near the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013. Police used water cannons as four officers were injured during sectarian clashes between loyalists and republicans in east Belfast, Saturday. Trouble flared after a city centre demonstration against the council's decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown from City Hall (AP Photo/Paul Faith/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT (The Associated Press)

  • e1d7fbfd769e6901260f6a706700cc04.jpg

    Loyalist protesters attack police lines, at the Albertbridge Road, near the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013. Police used water cannons as four officers were injured during sectarian clashes between loyalists and republicans in east Belfast, Saturday. Trouble flared after a city centre demonstration against the council's decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown from City Hall (AP Photo/Paul Faith/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT (The Associated Press)

  • 2d0ed120769d6901260f6a7067006fa3.jpg

    Loyalist protesters attack police lines, at the Albertbridge Road, near the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Saturday Jan. 12, 2013. Police used water cannons as four officers were injured during sectarian clashes between loyalists and republicans in east Belfast, Saturday. Trouble flared after a city centre demonstration against the council's decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown from City Hall (AP Photo/Paul Faith/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT (The Associated Press)

Police say 16 officers have been injured in street clashes after about 1,000 Protestants marched on Belfast City Hall to protest its decision to reduce displays of the British flag.

Violence broke out Saturday as Protestants passed Short Strand, the only Irish Catholic enclave in east Belfast. Masked, hooded Catholic youths tossed bottles, rocks and other makeshift weapons at the protesters. A running street battle ensued with heavily armored police in the middle.

Amid chaotic scenes, police used water cannons, shields and occasional shots of plastic bullets to force the Protestants away from the Catholic district.

Protestant extremists have mounted illegal protests and road blockades for the past six weeks in protest at Catholic council members' decision to fly the flag only 18 days annually, not year round.