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Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent, Tuesday 4th September 2012 00:39
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said that it fired six plastic baton rounds as nine officers were injured, with three taken to hospital, in a second night of sectarian violence in north Belfast.
There were unconfirmed reports that at least two loyalist protesters were hit with plastic bullets during what the PSNI described as "serious disorder".
Buses and cars were hijacked and set alight in the Lower Shankill area, where several hundred loyalists were on the streets, many of them attacking PSNI riot squad officers.
The PSNI used blue dye in water cannon fired at the rioters near Denmark Street. The paint will be used later to help identify offenders. The Shankill Road was also sealed off and motorists were advised to avoid the area.
Loyalist sources said large numbers of members of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force gathered in the area from other parts of Belfast to support the Shankill Road loyalists engaged in the violence.
The trouble erupted following a loyalist protest against what they claimed was "heavy handed policing" on Sunday night. Around 100 republicans in the nearby Antrim Road area were kept apart from the loyalists by the police. Some republican youths were reported to have thrown missiles at the police.
The trouble on Sunday lasted almost 10 hours and broke out after a republican flute band and supporters passed Clifton Street Orange Hall. Earlier a 17-year-old youth arrested during the violence on Sunday, when 47 police officers were injured, was charged with riotous assembly, assault on police, assault causing actual bodily harm and resisting arrest.
Sinn Féin claimed that Sunday night's violence was orchestrated by members of the UVF and the Ulster Defence Association, two loyalist terror groups who are meant to be observing a ceasefire.
Matt Baggottt, the PSNI's chief constable, said the community could not afford a repeat of the trouble that exploded at the weekend.
Northern Ireland's justice minister, David Ford, vowed that the PSNI
would pursue those behind the trouble. Ford said: "The police will be following up things like CCTV evidence with a view to prosecutions."
The atmosphere in the north inner city of Belfast has been poisoned by this latest upsurge in sectarian violence. The latest disorder has its roots back in a loyalist band who on 12 July were caught on camera playing a sectarian song outside St.Patrick's Catholic church in nearby Donegall Street.
The Young Conway Volunteers flute band was banned from repeating the action on 25 August but defied the ruling and along with other bands played a series of loyalist tunes. This resulted in brief but violent skirmishes with local Catholic residents.
There are growing fears that a large loyalist rally in Belfast to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ulster covenant to oppose home rule for Ireland could lead to more sectarian trouble in the area.