Belfast flags trouble: Plastic bullets fired at protesters

The BBC's Chris Page says it is a "seriously challenging night" for police, as footage shows violence and a hijacked lorry on the streets

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Police have fired plastic bullets during a fifth consecutive night of riots during flag protests in Belfast.

The PSNI said weapons, including hatchets and sledge hammers, were used to attack police officers and their vehicles on Newtownards Road.

The disorder began close to the nationalist Short Strand area as loyalists returned from a protest at Belfast City Hall.

Eight arrests were made, bringing the total since the protests began to 104.

Three officers were also injured in the latest violence.

Street demonstrations have been held since councillors voted on 3 December to limit the days when the union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.

On Monday, 400 people attended what police described as a "largely peaceful" protest outside City Hall between 18:00 and 19:00 GMT.

Road barricade

Trouble broke out as about 250 of the protesters passed the Short Strand on their return to east Belfast.

They were attacked by a crowd of up to 70 nationalists who had gathered at the interface.

The nationalists threw a number of missiles, including bottles, at the loyalist protesters as they passed.

Police worked to disperse the crowd at Short Strand, and when they tried to move the flag protesters up the Lower Newtownards Road, officers were attacked with petrol bombs, bricks, stones and bottles.

Locations of recent violence in Belfast Areas which have been recently hit by violence in the Belfast City Hall flag row

The PSNI said five plastic bullets were fired and water cannon were deployed due to the "level of violence" that officers were subjected to.

Loyalist protesters set up a barricade in the middle of the road and set it alight.

Police received reports of two attempted hijackings of a car and a lorry in the area.

Order was restored at about 22:00 GMT. Two men and two women were arrested for riot and public order offences.

Petrol bombs, fireworks and other missiles were also thrown at police during rioting on Robbs Road in Dundonald on Monday evening.

A car was set on fire in Bute Park.

Orchestrated violence

Sixty-two PSNI officers have been injured since the protests began.

The meeting at Belfast City Hall on Monday was the first time the council has met since the flag vote was taken on 3 December.

The first of the designated flag days will be Wednesday 9 January, to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.

A large security operation was put in place around City Hall ahead of the meeting.

Despite loyalist protests outside the building, the new flag policy was not overturned.

BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson said it was now clear there was no prospect of the the council changing its mind on the issue - but the protesters said their campaign would continue.

Earlier on Monday, PSNI Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, said individual senior loyalist paramilitaries had been involved in orchestrating violence during union flag protests in east Belfast.

Mr Baggott said if protests continued in the long-term, day-to-day policing would be affected, including his officers' ability to deal with the threat from dissident republicans, he added.

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