POLICE have re-routed a republican anti-internment parade after loyalists blocked a main thoroughfare through Belfast city centre on Friday night.
Rioting erupted just after 6 pm in Royal Avenue when several thousand loyalists blocked the road and attacked police lines with missiles, smoke bombs and fireworks.
As a result, police stopped a republican parade in North Queen Street before it headed to Royal Avenue.
Some republicans broke through the police lines after being held up for an hour.
The parade later passed along North Queen Street, past Carrick Hill and Peters Hill.
Police forced loyalist protestors back up Peters Hill and into the Shankill using water cannon before the republicans marched past the flashpoint area.
Loyalists claimed it was “victory over terrorism” as republicans were not allowed to march down Royal Avenue.
PSNI resources were stretched to the limit as loyalists and republicans converged from many parts of Belfast on Friday evening.
At one point, they were caught in the middle of a Belfast city centre street battle tonight as loyalists and republican rioted.
At least one car was set on fire in north Street.
The Sunflower Bar just off Library Street, where three Catholics were shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in the 1980s, was attacked masked loyalist youths, with windows being smashed.
In other parts of the city centre, republican crowds gathered in Castle Street, Kent Street and Library Street, not far from where up to 2,000 loyalists are holding a protest and refusing to move from the street.
A republican parade also set off from Divis Street to head into the centre to meet up with the other republican marchers.
Both sets of protestors have thrown missiles at police who are finding it almost impossible to keep control of the crowds.
Three police officers, including one female, have been injured and taken to hospital for treatment.
The female police officer had to be treated at the scene by a member of the public while being shield by riot cops.
The scenes of violence on what should have been a busy night city centre eateries and pubs turned Belfast into a ghost town for traders.
Pubs and restaurants had to close their doors for the safety of staff and patrons, with the loss of an evenings trade.
Furious commuters were left stranded after Translink diverted its bus services away from the trouble.
One mother said: “It was just so nice of Translink to let us know their plans. I was left stranded in the city centre and had to wait forever to get home to pick up my son.”