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    What You Need To Know About The Riots In Northern Ireland

    The decision to stop permanently flying the British flag outside Belfast City Hall has sparked the worst violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. Only Kate Middleton's birthday was a brief respite from the violence. Here's a breakdown of the riots and the growing unrest in the country.

    Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom.

    Getty Images

    The country's population and political parties can be divided into two groups: those who wish to split from Great Britain (Nationalists and Republicans) and those who want to remain in the United Kingdom (Unionists and Loyalists).

    Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

    "Hands Across the Divide" monument. Derry, Ireland.

    Northern Ireland's political divisions have deep cultural and religious roots. Unionists consider themselves to be British and most are Protestants. Nationalists identify as Irish and tend to be Catholic.

    Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

    Violence between Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups plagued the country for years, killing thousands of people. These conflicts ended for the most part with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

    Belfast is the capitol of Northern Ireland and is its largest city. In the 2011 elections, Nationalist parties for the first time secured more seats on the Belfast City Council than Unionist parties.

    Via belfaststories.com!stills

    On December 3, 2012, the Belfast City Council voted to end the practice of flying the union (British) flag 365 days a year from the dome of the city hall and fly it only on designated days.

    The decision was a compromise between Nationalist councillors who demanded that the flag be permanently grounded and Unionists who insisted that it stay.

    When word of the vote reached the streets, a Loyalist mob stormed the grounds of City Hall.

    Paul Faith / AP

    December 3, 2012

    Police rushed to defend the building from the angry crowd. Two officers, a security guard, and various civilians were wounded in the fighting.

    Peter Morrison / AP

    December 3, 2012

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Northern Ireland on December 7 and condemned the escalating attacks, which by then included more riots, death threats and a car bomb that was discovered before it went off.

    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

    December 7, 2012

    Protests over the union flag's removal continued over the following weeks.

    images.newscred.com

    December 15, 2012

    Many of these protests descended into violence. By December 21st, approximately 60 Belfast police officers had been injured by flying masonry, bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    December 15, 2012

    Some Belfast residents found creative ways to express their disapproval over the council's decision.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    December 18, 2012

    Peaceful protests were held in Belfast and across Northern Ireland on December 22nd.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    December 22, 2012

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    December 22, 2012

    A bomb was discovered under a police officer's car on December 30.

    Stringer / Reuters

    December 30, 2012

    Thousands gathered for a peaceful demonstration outside City Hall on January 5.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 5, 2013

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 5, 2013

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 5, 2013

    The gathering turned violent as darkness fell.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 5, 2013

    Belfast police used water cannons against more than 100 protesters hurling fireworks, smoke bombs and bricks. Shots were fired and a 38 year-old man was arrested for attempted murder.

    Cathal Mcnaughton / Reuters

    January 5, 2013

    The Belfast City Council met for the first time since the controversial flag vote on Monday evening and the violence erupted for the fifth night in a row.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 7, 2013

    Some of the protestors attacked with sledgehammers and hatchets, forcing police to fire plastic bullets into the crowd.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 7, 2013

    Angry crowds set up a barricade in the middle of the main road and set it aflame.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 7, 2013

    Protests continued Tuesday for an unprecedented sixth night.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 8, 2013

    More than 100 individuals have been arrested since the Belfast City Council's decision in December.

    Carol McNaughton / Reuters

    January 8, 2013

    Over 60 police officers have been injured and the city has reportedly spent £7 million combatting the riots.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 8, 2013

    The Union Flag was flown above Belfast City Hall Wednesday for the first time since December 3 in honor of Kate Middleton aka Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge'sbirthday.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    The flag's presence had a noticeable effect on the protestors. For the first time in a week, the peaceful daytime demonstrations ended quietly instead of escalating into violence. Wednesday marked the first of the sixteen days the union flag will fly

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    January 9, 2013

    More protests are planned for later this week.

    Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

    UPDATE:

    An earlier version of this article included a reference to "the Irish fashion," as a joke about the University of Notre Dame mascot, the "fighting Irish." The joke was obscure and gave offense, and has been removed.

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