RESIDENTS said on Monday night that loyalists attacked a Catholic Church and homes in east Belfast.
It follows a decision by Belfast City Council to only fly the Union flag on designated days of the year and not the current policy of 365 days.
The flag will come down at midnight on Monday and not be flown again until January.
Residents said gangs of loyalists heading back from Belfast City Hall attacked St Matthews Chapel in the Short Strand and local homes in Strand Walk have been attacked by loyalists linked to the UVF.
The Newtownards Road was closed to all traffic and police put diversions in place after forcing loyalist mob back down the Albertbridge Road.
Gangs then tried to hijack two buses. One driver was able to get away while police took control of a second.
Award-winning Associated Press photographer Peter Morrision said he was hit on head and hand by police batons – even after he TWICE identified himself as a member of the press.
He has been taken to hospital to be treated for his injuries.
During tonight’s violence, five police officers injured and two female officers were hospitalised.
The PSNI said two security staff of Belfast City Hall have also been injured.
A teenage girl was also said to have been injured and was taken to hospital by ambulance.
By 10pm the PSNI were reporting a calmer situation on the streets of Belfast despite attempts by loyalists at the City Hall to burn the Christmas tree down.
A few loyalists were still at the rear of the City Hall as police stood guard at the gates.
A statement said: “Crowds have dispersed from City Hall and Newtownards Rd.
“Police remain in Albertbridge Rd area while crowds disperse after disorder in area.”
As order was restored in the council chamber it was stormed by a loyalist gang dubbed ‘The Wolf Packs’, outside a stand-off has developed with Linenhill Street blocked as loyalists chant at police lines: We Shall Not Be Moved.
One PSNI officer was injured as traffic cones were thrown at police landrovers as angry loyalists stormed the rear gates of the building in Linenhall Street.
It is understood three Belfast City Council security guards were hurt during the trouble and a young teenage girl who was taken away in an ambulance.
It is claimed shoppers with children had to “duck for cover” as fireworks exploded and golf balls hurled at police lines.
According to sources, men with hoods dubbed ‘The Wolf Packs’ stormed the council chamber in what security sources described as a “serious public order situation.”
It is claimed loyalists were seen running around the inside of the building.
The PSNI deployed dog handlers to sniff out any remaining protestors who had secreted themselves away inside the building
Order has now been restored although police chiefs have called in extra Tactical Support Group (TSG) units to keep calm across the city.
Police fear violence could spread to flashpoint areas of the city such as the Short Strand in east Belfast and peaceline areas of north Belfast.
So serious was the trouble that DUP Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson was forced to adjourn the monthly meeting.
Council insiders said that a car belonging to DUP councillor Guy Spence was “smashed up” in the rear grounds of the City Hall.
In a plea for calm to loyalist protestors durng the meeting, Cllr Spence said: “I am urging everyone at back gate to remain peaceful please. Let the fighting be done in chamber through debating.”
Cllr Laura McNamee said Belfast City Hall was “ınvaded” by protesters and blamed the DUP and UUP who “encouraged people to come out and protest.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, a former councillor, said the police handling of the situation had been “inadequte”.
The violence came minutes after word filtered out to loyalists on the street that compromise had broken out in the council chamber on Monday evening against the back drop of a ‘Keep Our Union flag’ protest outside.
An Alliance motion for the Union flag to be flown only on designated days of the year was passed by eight votes.
And the compromise deal was on the cards minutes earlier in the debate when the DUP appeared to admit defeat.
Councillor William Humphrey told the meeting: “You may take our flag down, but you will never destroy our union.”
It followed earlier remarks by the SDLP and Sinn Fein who said they would support a motion by Alliance Councillor Marie Hendron that the Union flag should only be flown on designated days.
The monthly council meeting was expected to pass a proposal from the policy and resources committee of a fortnight ago that the flag should not be flown on top of the City Hall.
However, Monday evening’s meeting appeared to have staved off a bitter political row spilling onto the street.
The DUP, who didn’t sign up to the Good Friday Agreement, say the removal of the flag would leave Protestants “ostrascised” in their own city.
And as word spread to the outside where up to 1,000 loyalists gathered in protest by the United Protestant Voice that a compromise was on the cards, the number steadily started to dwindle as riot police kept a discreet distance in nearby Linenhall Street.
Inside the ‘Dome of Delight’ chamber, councillors debated for around an hour and 15 minutes the fors and against of removing the Union flag.
The meeting got so tedious that south Belfast SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy called for the debate to be ended and the recorded vote taken “before we all fall asleep.”
When the vote was taken, the Alliance motion was passed by 29 votes to 21.