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7 February 2002 Edition

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Loyalist mob at Craigavon council

Craigavon Sinn Féin Councillor John O'Dowd says he and his party colleagues were lucky to escape injury after loyalist protesters threw fireworks at them during a debate on the flags issue in Craigavon council chamber on Monday evening, 4 February.

"My party colleagues were subjected to both physical and verbal abuse as councillors voted to accept legal advice and change the council policy of flying the Union flag 365 days a year," said O'Dowd.

Councillors narrowly voted in favour of adopting the legal recommendation of flying the Union flag on 17 designated days of the year.

Loyalists, who had packed the public gallery, jeering and shouting sectarian abuse, then stormed the debating chamber, draping Sinn Féin councillors in the Union flag and kicking over chairs.

"The public gallery erupted into mayhem as around 30 loyalists stopped the meeting and failed to leave after being told to by the mayor," said O'Dowd.

At one stage a large firework was thrown at Sinn Féin councillors from the public gallery but a party member was able to extinguish the fuse before it ignited. Other similar devices were discovered in the chamber after the mob had left.

"The DUP must accept responsibility for the actions of this crowd of thugs, who they brought into the council chambers," said O'Dowd. "Do members of the DUP believe it to be acceptable to attack councillors in this vicious fashion?"

DUP councillor David Simpson dismissed the incident as "a bit of a rumpus". Ulster Unionist councillor Arnold Hatch said Sinn Féin's claims were "wildly exaggerated."
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