Northern Ireland officials urge unity against 'anti-democratic forces' in wake of riots

(Photo Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)Demonstrators attend a peace rally at Belfast City Hall January 13, 2013. The rally followed another night of violent protests as loyalists renewed their anger against restrictions on flying the union flag from Belfast City Hall.

Politicians in Northern Ireland are calling for a joint stand against "anti-democratic forces," in the wake of riots in recent weeks with sectarian overtones involving Catholic Republicans and Protestant Loyalists.

The demonstrations began six weeks ago after a Belfast City Council decision stop flying the Union flag above City Hall except for special occasions, instead of every day.

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness said Wednesday he is seeking a united approach, referring to First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson.

"This is an occasion where we do need to be see standing together – not just Peter Robinson and myself – but all the political leaders in the assembly need to speaking with one voice and making it absolutely clear that we are not going to bow the knee to anti-democratic forces," he said, according to the Press Association.

More than 100 police officers have been injured since the start of demonstrations on December 3.

Residents in the Catholic Short Strand area and Protestant areas near the lower Newtownards road and Albertbridge Road told the BBC their homes had been attacked during recent violence.

Loyalists threw gasoline bombs at homes and a Catholic church in the nearby Catholic Short Strand area last week, the PA reported.

On Friday, Robinson called rioters enemies of democracy and said they were being exploited by those seeking to derail a peace process.

"You do not respect a Union flag if you are using it as a weapon to charge against someone," Robinson said. "You are not showing respect for the Union flag if you need to wear a mask when carrying it."

"For many the issue of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Council is now a cynical cover for the real political agenda which is to destroy the political process," he added.

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