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'Attempt to kill': Police in Belfast attacked as flag riots rage on

Cathal Mcnaughton / Reuters

A forensic officer works on an unmarked police car in East Belfast Monday, after it was attacked by rioters.

BELFAST -- Police were attacked in Northern Ireland on Monday night by protesters enraged by a decision to remove the British flag from Belfast City Hall, which has sparked eight consecutive days of demonstrations.

About 15 masked men broke out of a crowd assembled in the predominantly Protestant Newtownards Road area of Belfast, smashed the windows of a police car and threw a Molotov cocktail into it while an officer was still inside, police said.

The officer escaped unharmed but the Police Service of Northern Ireland said they were treating the attack as attempted murder.

The attack was one of a series of protests across the city on Monday during which stones and fireworks were hurled at police, who responded with water cannons in at least two locations.

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Loyalists -- or supporters of Northern Ireland remaining part of the U.K. -- have been protesting against a decision taken mainly by Irish nationalist city councilors from political parties Sinn Fein and the SDLP to take down the British flag which has flown above the provincial capital's city hall every day since it opened in 1906.

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The decision means Britain's Union Jack will now fly on only 17 days of the year, as is the case at the provincial assembly at Stormont in the British-controlled province.

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The Molotov cocktail attack happened outside the constituency office of Naomi Long, a member of the British parliament for the non-sectarian, centrist Alliance Party.

"This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger," Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said.

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Long was forced to flee her home last week after receiving threats over her party's support of the removal of the flag from City Hall.

Later on Monday night, police separated rival loyalist and republican crowds rioting in a flashpoint area between the loyalist east Belfast and the small nationalist Short Strand enclave.

Violence has raged for seven of the last eight days since the decision, in Belfast and around the and nearly 30 officers have been injured.

About 10 people have appeared in court charged with offences linked to the rioting - the youngest just 13 years of age.

Decades of violence between the province's mainly Catholic republicans and pro-British Protestants largely ended when a peace agreement was signed in 1998, but much of Belfast remains divided along sectarian lines.

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