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Robinson's car attacked

Published 28/01/2013

John Manley Political Reporter

FIRST Minister Peter Robinson was jeered and his car attacked by flag protesters in east Belfast on Saturday as he made a rare appearance on east Belfast's Newtownards Road.

The DUP leader had just left a meeting with Church leaders and community representatives in the Skainos centre when around two dozen protesters shouted abuse at Mr Robinson and tried to block his car's exit route.

A police spokesman confirmed that as Mr Robinson's car drove off it was struck by a person wielding a flagpole.

However, the spokesman said police made no arrests and had ' yet to receive a complaint about the incident.

Mr Robinson was accompanied at the public meeting by finance minister Sammy Wilson and Belfast lord mayor Gavin Robinson.

Also present were east Belfast minister Mervyn Gibson and prominent loyalist Jim Wilson.

Reportedly there were angry exchanges during the two-hour meeting, which was attended by up 100 people.

A DUP spokesman later described the meeting as "very useful" and said Mr Robinson was planning to attend other meetings in his east Belfast con stituency this week.

Interviewed after the meeting, the DUP leader said he defended the protesters' right to demonstrate

"We want to move forward as a society ... and that can only be done on the basis of respect for the rule of law and for democratic principles," he said.

He said it was important that a dialogue with community leaders had begun.

"The best way forward is through the political process - to get involved in the Unionist Forum and the task force that flows from it to try and get the real changes that are going to matter on the ground," he said.

Mr Wilson spoke with protesters after Mr Robinson left.

The East Antrim MLA acknowledged anger among loyalists but said on the whole the meeting had been "positive and constructive".

"The flag situation is not going to change until at least the next election so we need to get the message out there that people need to vote," he said.

Meanwhile, loyalist youths threw fireworks in Newtown-abbey last night.

The O'Neill Road and Station Road were closed for several hours as police dealt with minor disturbances at about 8pm. The disturbances came as a 31-year-old man was charged with resisting police, riot, assault on police and possession of a class B drug, after a protest in Newtownabbey on Saturday. ■ MEETING: Belfast lord mayor Gavin Robinson follows Peter Robinson after their meeting with Church leaders and community representatives in the Skainos centre on Saturday ■ CONFRONTED: Peter Robinson's car makes its way through loyalist protesters in east Belfast on Saturday PICTURE: Pacemaker