Lanterns carry flame for Ulster flag protest

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FLAMING lanterns will light up the skies across Northern Ireland at the turn of the New Year as part of the protest over the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall on all but the 20 official designated days.

A Province-wide lanterns release is being planned in Belfast and other towns and cities where the protests have stopped traffic and affected Christmas shopping.

A source in the protest programme appealed to protestors to invest in the lanterns and release them at 11.59pm on New Year’s Eve, so that the sky would be lit up, “and our protest will be visible from all parts of the Province”.

Protests are also set to take place in Scotland with demonstrations arranged for Carluke, south Lanarkshire, last night, in Clyde Square, Greenock, and also following a Glasgow Rangers match on Saturday.

Around 100 gathered for a peaceful protest in Garvagh last night, and also at the Cregagh among other locations while towns and cities earmarked in the lantern protest include Carrickfergus, Portadown, Ballyclare, Ballymena and Lisburn, although the street protests focus mainly on Belfast, with the City Hall, Newtownards Road and Albertbridge Road all on the agenda for Saturday.

Monday will include a protest at the town hall car park in Ballyclare, after which the emphasis shifts to the Boyne Bridge in Sandy Row (Friday, January 4). The City Hall will remain a regular target, with every Saturday at 2pm “a recurring protest into 2013”.

But the main focus will be the Alliance office at Upper Newtownards Road, headquarters of Naomi Long MP, with the party having supported Sinn Fein in the removal of the flag.

However, a statement from Alliance repeats the party’s opposition to the protest, underlining that any protests on the Province’s highways are illegal and therefore should be stopped.

A party spokesman added there was continued condemnation of the sending of bullets to Ms Long, party leader David Ford, to Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly and Alex Maskey, “not to mention the various death threats to other politicians”.

The spokesman said: “There are, of course, electoral undertones, with Naomi having won the East Belfast seat at the last election. But she will continue to work as hard as ever as the representative of the area.”

Meanwhile, TUV’s Jim Allister, who has addressed several of the rallies, has repeated his call for protestors to get involved in the political process, keep all protests peaceful and to go out and vote at the next election.

“The removal of the flag was no random act,” he said, “but part of Sinn Fein’s anti-British pogrom. This is the sort of thing which happens when people don’t bother to vote.”