POLICE have fired more baton rounds in east Belfast on Saturday afternoon as they come under sustained attack from loyalists.
Four water cannon hav been deployed to the area around Castlereagh Street.
But such was the intensity of the attacks, water cannons were having little effect on rioters.
A senior police officer gave the order for officers to open fire with plastic baton rounds.
The trouble initially started after natonalist youths attacked marchers heading hom after a Union flag parade.
The PSNI re-routed the homeward bound leg of east Belfast Union flag protestors past the Markets area as PSNI chiefs feared it would come under attack at Short Strand.
But shortly before 3pm serious public disorder erupted with reports of hand to hand fighting.
Sinn Fein admitted nationalist youths started the trouble.
But the party added: “It is hard to hold them back after five weeks of illegal marches.”
Five police officers were injured during trouble at Castlereagh Street and taken to hospital by paramedics.
Police have come under attack with missiles, bricks and firework from loyalists.
Loyalists have now used social network sites urging people to “go to east Belfast and defend our people from the PSNI”.
“This was a stupid decision by the PSNI,” said one observer.
“There is now hand to hand fighting between the two sides and the police have lost control and are heavily outnumbered.
“The protest has now turned on the Markets and there could be as many as 1,000 involved.
“Police have fired a baton round and are just being taken apart. They have totally under estimated the numbers involved.
“The PSNI are in serious trouble. They need to get extra resources into the area quickly.
“The Short Strand is now being invaded to repell any attackers.”
The source added that the Short Strand “sustained a heavy onslaught” with windows broken.
“Police are now using batons in hand to hand fighting with protestors. Police reinforcements are being tasked.”
The trouble came after hundres of Union flag protestors gathered at 1 pm at Belfast City Hall.
Loyalists claim the PSNI refused to let the marchers go up the Newtownards Road on their return leg.
“Instead they forced us to walk up the front of the (Short) Strand which allowed nationalists to freely attack us,” said one loyalist.
“What an utter disgrace.
“The PSNI are fully responsible for a monumental cock up.”