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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
In a flap over flags
Setting light to the Stars and Stripes
Burning issue: Yugoslavs protest against last year's Nato strike
Once again, the drive towards better relations in Northern Ireland has hit a bumpy patch.

This time the dispute centres around the flying of flags from government buildings. Friday marks the 47th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's coronation and is one of 13 days in the year when the Union Flag can be flown from designated government offices.

But heightened sensibilities among republicans put paid to that, in some cases at least.

Loyalist flag
On Friday, some loyalists defied Martin McGuinness's decree

Education minister Martin McGuinness, a leading member of Sinn Fein, said he had asked his officials not to fly the flag over his department's offices in Bangor, County Down.

The episode may not be serious enough to threaten political stability, but it is a reminder of the emotive and divisive nature of flags.

Some other notable fallings out over flags:

1) Burning the Star Spangled Banner. Almost nothing will enrage a patriotic American more than the desecration of his or her flag. Which explains why whenever an angry mob wishes to register a protest against Uncle Sam, a petrol-soaked Stars and Strips and cigarette lighter are never far away.

A ceremonial burning was recently performed by employees of the South Korean motor company Daewoo, after fears it might be sold to an American buyer.

Red Cross toy plane
Becuase of its Christian symbolism, the Red Cross is not welcome everywhere

Last year, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to forbid the desecration of the flag. It has yet to become law.

2) The Red Diamond? As ministers in Northern Ireland argued over the Union Flag, Israel chose the same day to reject a proposal that would allow it to join the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The main sticking point had been a plan by Israel's existing version of the Red Cross, called Magen David Adom, to fly a six-pointed Star of David next to the cross on its flag.

It dismissed a compromise offered by the Swiss-based movement, that would have swapped the star for a non-denominational red diamond.
Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima: The photo won a Pulitzer prize but left a sad legacy

3) Mark of republicanism. In Australia, Republicans resurrected a flag called the Southern Cross in protest at the Queen's visit earlier this year. The flag is dark blue with a white cross and five white stars.

It was first raised in 1854 when miners in the Eureka goldfield, angry about unfair taxes levied by their colonial rulers, built a stockade. Twenty-two "diggers" were killed and the event was said have lit the fuse of republicanism.

4) Battle of Iwo Jima. Joe Rosenthal's picture of WWII American troops raising the Stars and Stripes over the Pacific island of Iwo Jima is one of the most striking photos ever. But its legacy is an unhappy one.

Of the six men pictured, three were later killed in combat while the other three became national heroes. One of them, Ira Hayes, took refuge in drink and died in a fight, while another, Rene Gagnon, could not convert his fame into a full-time job.

To cap it all, it turned out the flag had not been raised under gunfire, as originally reported.

5) Royal protocol. In Britain, the protocol surrounding royal flags almost caused a storm at last year's opening of the Welsh Assembly. Convention has it that when the Queen attends a state function, only her flag - the Royal Standard - flies.

Unfortunately, while the Royal Standard represents England, Scotland and Ireland, it makes no mention of Wales.

In the run up to last May's opening of the assembly in Cardiff, officials took a last-minute decision to break with protocol and fly the Prince of Wales's flag alongside the Queen's.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman stressed the decision was strictly a "one off".

6) Alexander The Great's legacy.When the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became independent of Belgrade in 1991, it needed a new flag.

Macedonian flag
The Star of Verjina...a bone of contention
The politicians in Skopje chose the Star of Verjina - a yellow starburst on a red background.

Big mistake. The flag was that of Phillip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, and the Star of Verjina was carried by his sons's warriors during their conquests of Greece, Persia and the Middle East.

The Greeks, who also objected to the name Macedonia, made a tremendous fuss and Skopje has since changed the flag to a yellow sunrise on a red background, similar to Japan's World War II rising sun flag.

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See also:

02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein criticised over flag stance
02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Tension over flag flying
13 Apr 00 | Middle East
Row over Red Cross emblem
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