Violence erupted in east Belfast again last night with police firing baton rounds and using water cannon against rioting loyalists.
Hundreds of loyalists held a largely peaceful protest at Belfast City Hall last night as the council met for the first time since voting to fly the union flag only on designated days.
However, disorder erupted as a group of 250 demonstrators from east Belfast returning from the city centre protest passed a community interface with the republican Short Strand.
Missiles were thrown at the protesters from the Short Strand area where a group of 70 youths had gathered and violence spiralled from there with police moving to separate rival factions.
The officers were met with petrol bombs, paint bombs, fireworks and heavy masonry while rioters damaged vehicles with hatchets and sledge hammers and constructed a burning barricade in the middle of the road.
There were reports of an attempted car hi-jacking in the Templemore Avenue area of the city and an attempted lorry hi-jacking in the Albertbridge Road area. Police also reported some disorder elsewhere in east Belfast, in the Dundonald area, but calm was restored around 10pm.
More than 60 police officers have been injured in flag-related unrest in the last five weeks and 100 people have been arrested. Two males and two females were arrested in last night’s disturbances for riot and public order offences.
While the flag issue was not on the formal agenda of the Belfast City Council meeting councillors spent an hour discussing the matter with DUP lord mayor Gavin Robinson urging members to show moderation.
Sinn Fein’s Jim McVeigh accused unionist politicians of failed leadership claiming they had allowed themselves to be “led by the nose” by a small band of extremists.
He stated that the council “won’t be intimidated by those threats” adding that “their protests are pointless and they will have absolutely no impact on decisions that we take.”
He added that his party would respect British tradition but told unionists that respect was “not one way”. His claims were met with anger from unionists.
Democratic Unionist councillor for east Belfast Robin Newton accused Mr McVeigh and Sinn Fein of “bulldozing” the flag vote through council.
“It was purely a political decision, a pure political decision,” he said but also called on loyalists engaged in the protests to seek a political route to voice their grievances instead.
“All sections of the unionist community should involve themselves in politics in Northern Ireland.”
The union flag will be raised tomorrow for the first time since its removal to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.