THE UDA and UVF are orchestrating violent attacks on PSNI officers and property, a police chief has revealed.
It follows some of the worst nights of violence on Friday night in which police were attacked with petrol bombs and missiles.
And cars were hijacked and set on fire in a serious escalation of street protests over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.
A further protest is planned for Belfast City Centre on Saturday afternoon. Police numbers have been stepped in the town ahead of the protest.
Riot squad officers and Land Rovers are now strategically placed in streets close to Belfast City Hall.
Two water cannon and further police reinforcements have been despatched to the city centre to quell any trouble.
Belfast Daily revealed on Wednesday that loyalists were planning to ratchet up their protests.
We revealed that senior police commanders were warned of the escalation following a briefing by intelligence chiefs at PSNI headquarters.
Following Friday night’s violence, eight PSNI officers were injured after being attacked in Shaftesbury Square at Belfast’s ‘Golden Mile’, and in Crumlin Road and Ligoniel Road areas in the north of the city.
Shaftsbury Square comes under the control UDA south Belfast brigadier Jackie McDonald. He has made no comment on the trouble as yet.
Three officers were taken to hospital for treatment and were later discharged.
Two men aged 18 and 19 are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court in relation with the disorder.
The man in charge of the PSNI’s urban region finally confirmed that the violence was being orchestrated by paramilitaries.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said “senior figures in the UDA and UVF” are organising the violent protests.
“Police can now confirm loyalist paramilitaries are orchestrating some of the violence we have seen in the past 24 hours,” said ACC Kerr.
“Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all and we will robustly investigate all incidents.”
ACC Kerr previously described the disorder as “mob violence” which he said was “unacceptable”.
“We are warning anyone who does engage in criminal activity that they will face the full rigours of the law.
Trouble also flared in the O’Neill Road area of Newtownabbey as a crowd of around 70 people blocked the road and attacked police with bricks and masonry on Friday night.
Two petrol bombs were thrown at police vehicles, which were damaged during the disturbances.
Eight men were arrested by police following the disorder in the area.
A 17-year-old teenager has been charged with assault on police, disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest. He is due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on Saturday.
ACC Kerr said 27 police officers had been injured while dealing with disorder this week.
He said: “This behaviour is simply not acceptable. These people are only wrecking their own communities and putting innocent people’s lives at risk.
“This mob violence and intimidation cannot be allowed to continue and I am urgently appealing to politicians and those with community influence in these areas to do what they can to put a stop to this behaviour now before someone is seriously injured or killed.”
A catalogue of incidents was recorded by the PSNI which included:
• Missiles thrown at riot police in the Shaftsbury Square area of the city
• Bricks and other missiles thrown at police on the O’Neill Road in Newtownabbey. Police said about 50 people were in the area and seven arrests were made
• Water cannon was used in Belfast
• There was trouble at the Mossley Mill civic centre in Newtownabbey, where 600 people were attending functions on the premises
• Earlier, several small protests took place in Belfast, Bangor and Lisburn.
• A protest at Alliance party headquarters near Holywood Arches in east Belfast caused traffic delays
• Protesters blocked the road at University Street at the office of Alliance MLA Anna Lo
Outside of Belfast, around 200 people were at the DUP mayor of Newtownabbey’s Christmas dinner and 400 were at a Christmas function involving singer Peter Corry at the council headquarters in Mossley Mill.
About 30 to 40 loyalists who gathere at the gates hijacked and burned two cars and smashed the windscreens of other cars belonging to people attending the functions.
People at the play were delayed and those at the Christmas dinner had their evening cut short because entertainers could not get into the premises.
A situation arose where people inside could not leave and people attempting to enter were obstructed.
DUP assembly member Paul Girvan attempted to speak to the protesters but was initially stoned before being recognised by the loyalists.
He said that as far as he was concerned there was clear paramilitary orchestration.
Mr Girvan blamed the UVF.
There have been protests since Monday when Belfast City Council voted to fly the union flag on designated days only.
Nationalists at Belfast City Council had wanted the union flag taken down altogether, but in the end voted on a compromise from the Alliance party that it would fly on designated days.
Unionists have said they consider the changes regarding the union flag to be an attack on their cultural identity.