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Flag protest at Belfast City Hall

A small protest is underway at Belfast City Hall.

A small protest over the council decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag has ended peacefully at Belfast City Hall.

Saturday, 22 December 2012
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Approximately 60-70 people gathered to demonstrate, some of whom were carrying Union flags.

Police in riot gear were at the scene and guarded the road to keep traffic flowing.

The front gates were closed as a safety precaution, according to UTV reporter Sarah Clarke, who was at the scene.

The crowd marched round City Hall before dispersing.

Around 20 people then made their way to the Upper Newtownards Road and staged a demonstration there.

A PSNI spokesperson said both protests ended peacefully.

The Christmas market remains open and trading is continuing as normal on what should be the busiest trading day of the year.

Glyn Roberts, Chief executive of the NI Independent Retail Trade Association says it is a crucial day for businesses as millions of pounds in sales have been lost by traders over the last few weeks because of the ongoing disruption.

"This has been a difficult year in retail terms, it's been a difficult Christmas as the result of the ongoing protests," he said.

We hope that people will get out today and don't be put off by the protests.

Glyn Roberts, NI Independent Retail Trade Association

He added: "There's no doubt that millions have been lost, it's forced many people to shop online so what we're calling for is to support traders in these last few days before Christmas.

"It's not just retailers that have lost out, it's hotels, it's restaurants that have (had) bookings cancelled."

Demonstrations across Northern Ireland have continued into a third week, after a council vote to restrict the flying of the Union flag to 17 designated days a year.

The majority of protests have been peaceful but have caused major traffic disruption and police officers have been injured during sporadic violence which has broken out.

Two petrol bombs were thrown at police officers in east Belfast after a protest on Friday.

Police dealt with almost 50 demonstrations within an hour on as protestors blocked roads.

Protests have been held at City Hall for the third weekend since the vote, the latest was attended in smaller numbers after previously attracting up to 2,000 people.

A peace rally at the municipal building also attracted hundreds of people last week.