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Protestant militants attack Northern Ireland party offices

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland leaders appealed for calm Thursday after Protestant militants attacked offices and a home connected to the most compromise-minded political party over its support for reducing the display of British flags on government buildings. The overnight violence in two Belfast suburbs came on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s planned visit on Friday to the capital of the British territory.

It underscored how divided Northern Ireland remains despite the broad success of the peace process.

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Protestant hard-liners have responded violently to a vote Monday in the Belfast City Council to reduce sharply the flying of the British flag atop the city hall. The Alliance Party, which represents middle-ground opinion and seeks support from both sides of the community, holds the balance of power on the council. Alliance voted with the Catholic side to take down the flag except for 18 official days annually; the Protestants had wanted it to stay up 365 days a year.

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