Eighteen people have been arrested after nine police officers were injured in a series of violent clashes over restrictions on flying the union flag in Northern Ireland.
The clashes on Friday night are the latest in a series of violent protests following the decision to reduce the number of days the Union Flag is flown from Belfast city hall.
More than 30 petrol bombs, along with fireworks, ball bearings and masonry, were hurled at police officers during a sustained attack on officers in east Belfast last night.
Officers reported up to 300 people were involved in the disturbances, where nine officers were injured. None received life threatening injuries, but one female officer required medical treatment at the scene.
There were also three attempted vehicle hijackings in the Beersbridge Road area while there was also an attempt to hijack a bus.
Several masked men broke into a commercial property on the O’Neill Road and stole a sum of money.
A water canon was deployed but it was not used.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said violence against the police was a “disgrace” and those behind days of unrest were playing into the hands of dissident republicans.
On Thursday 10 police officers were injured in east Belfast during a demonstration.
Mr Robinson said: “The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified.
“Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims.”
He said some demonstrators were employing language borrowed from the republican handbook to demonise police and undermine the DUP through a call for direct rule from London.
“All right-thinking unionists will want to channel their energies into political activity and to support the cause of finding political solutions to the problems that we face,” Mr Robinson said.
“In Northern Ireland the ballot box has primacy and is the only vehicle for choosing the people’s representatives.”
To date more than 40 police officers have been hurt in the violent protests since Belfast City Council took the vote to limit the number of days the flag is flown on 3 December.
Several politicians have also received death threats, while cars and homes have also been damaged.
Conall McDevitt, Social Democratic and Labour Party policing spokesman, said those organising the demonstrations on social media must be held fully responsible for the resultant violence.
“I appeal for calm today and over the weekend and ask people taking part in protests to reflect upon the violence and ask themselves if they want to be associated with that violence and if that is the best way that they feel they can have their voice heard,” he added.
“Nobody is in doubt that some paramilitaries are exploiting these illegal protests to destabilise the situation and ultimately bring violence back on to our streets.”
Nine police injured in unrest in Belfast