PSNI braced for another night of violence in Belfast
Police in Belfast are bracing themselves for another night of violence after a protest by loyalists against new restrictions on flying the Union flag passed peacefully this afternoon.
The picket outside City Hall in Belfast ended after about an hour with a rendition of God Save the Queen.
Two tricolours were burned amid chants and jeers while protesters sang a number of sectarian songs.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said protesters had dispersed, but there were pockets of disorder in east Belfast and a section of the Newtownards Road was closed.
A police officer was injured and taken to hospital this afternoon.
The protest followed overnight clashes between loyalists and riot police. Eight PSNI officers were injured and 12 people arrested.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said loyalist paramilitaries had been orchestrating some of the violence seen in the past 24 hours.
“Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all and we will robustly investigate all incidents,” he said.
“I am urging everyone to be calm, take a step back and think about how this violence is affecting not just their own communities but the whole of Northern Ireland.”
About 2,000 people attended the demonstration in Belfast city centre.
As protesters did a lap of the City Hall, some who used scarves to hide their faces banged on the back gates which were reinforced with metal sheets after Monday night’s disorder.
Up to 20 PSNI armoured Landrovers were lined up on either side of City Hall while officers in full riot gear with dogs could be seen in the courtyard of the Edwardian building.
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, UDA boss Jackie McDonald and Jim Dowson, a former member of the National Front, were among the crowd.
Mr Hutchinson said it was unfortunate that tricolours had been burned.
“It is unfortunate that some people feel that they have to do that. This is about Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland republicans.They are venting their frustrations against republicans in Northern Ireland.”
Armagh victims campaigner Willie Frazer was also at the protest, where the crowd sang the controversial Famine Song which sparked a political row over a parade past a Catholic Church in Belfast city centre earlier this year.
Traders had feared the protest would affect business on what should be one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The Christmas market closed for a short time and a children’s walk, Christmas party and visit by Santa planned by a charity for youngsters with heart disease was cancelled. But protesters said they felt compelled to take to the streets.