Security tightened after clashes

Andover Advertiser: Loyalist protesters opposed to new restrictions on flying the Union flag are expected to stage another demonstration in Belfast Loyalist protesters opposed to new restrictions on flying the Union flag are expected to stage another demonstration in Belfast

A major security operation is under way to prevent more trouble breaking out in Belfast.

Eight police officers were injured and 12 people arrested during overnight clashes between loyalists and riot police. Loyalist protesters opposed to new restrictions on flying the Union flag are expected to stage another demonstration in the city centre from about 1pm.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr urged those who have a legitimate right to protest to take a step back and stay out of the city centre, adding: "The risk to the public safety of all of those involved is simply too great."

Traders are worried it could affect business on what should be one of the busiest shopping days of the year. A children's walk, Christmas party and Santa planned by a charity for youngsters with heart disease have already been cancelled. The Christmas market in Belfast city was also been temporarily closed.

Violence erupted in towns across Northern Ireland this week after loyalists took to the streets to vent their anger. On Friday night six officers were injured as they dealt with disorder near Crumlin Road and Ligoneill Road in Belfast. A total of 12 people have been arrested, including a 13-year-old boy.

Trouble flared at Shaftesbury Square - a popular party spot near Queen's University - after a man tried to drive a black van through a loyalist road block of about 200 people. Eye witnesses said police officers were pelted with stones, bricks, bottles and other missiles. A number of vehicles were also hijacked and set on fire.

PSNI water cannons were deployed, including one in O'Neill Road in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of north Belfast as a crowd of 70 people blocked the road and attacked police with bricks and masonry, PSNI said. Cars there were also burnt outside the council offices, and hundreds of people attending a Christmas function had to be evacuated. There were also reports of sporadic disorder in other parts of the city.

Mr Kerr said a total of 27 police officers had been injured during the unrest this week. He later confirmed Loyalist paramilitaries have been orchestrating some of the violence seen in the past 24 hours. He added: "We appeal to those who plan to come into the city centre to protest to stay away and let people get on with every day business such as Christmas shopping."

Elsewhere the house of another Alliance Party councillor was attacked overnight, with several windows broken and her car windows smashed. Cllr Linda Cleland said there was no justification for the attack on her home or the homes and offices of her colleagues, adding: "This violence must stop. I will not be intimidated by this violence. This is an attack on democracy that must be condemned by all."

The PSNI also confirmed it is investigating criminal damage at Ms Cleland's home in the Fairfield Court area. A spokesman said: "At around 1.20am it was reported that several windows at the house and all the windows of a car parked at the same house had been smashed. Two males with scarves covering their faces were seen running from the scene."

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