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NORTHERN IRELAND
12 January 2013 Last updated at 13:37 ET
Union flag protests: Sixteen officers hurt in Belfast riot
The BBC's Chris Page reports on the clashes after the demonstration
Belfast city hall flag protests
Flags and symbols
Q&A: Northern Ireland flag protests
Timeline of attacks on NI parties
In pictures: Union flag dispute
Sixteen police officers have been injured in rioting in Belfast following a loyalist protest over the union flag.
Officers have fired four plastic bullets and used water cannon as trouble broke out on the 40th day of the street protests.
Trouble began about 14:30 GMT, when loyalists and nationalists clashed at a sectarian interface at Short Strand in the east of the city.
Police came under sustained attack as they moved in to separate the groups.
The protesters were passing the nationalist Short Strand area on their return from a demonstration at Belfast City Hall in the centre of the city.
Rocks and fireworks were thrown at Albertbridge Road and at least two officers were taken to hospital after they were injured in nearby Castlereagh Street.
A car was later set on fire at the junction of Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue. Police are still under attack from bricks, bottles and fireworks.
Earlier, nearly 1,000 people took part in a flag protest at Belfast City Hall.
Loyalist street demonstrations have been taking place for almost six weeks, since Belfast City Council voted to change its longstanding union flag policy on 3 December.
A car was set on fire at Castlereagh Street, east Belfast
The council, which now has a nationalist majority, voted to fly the flag at Belfast City Hall on a number of designated days, as opposed to every day of the year.
The majority of the street demonstrations have passed without incident, but some have resulted in serious rioting.
On Friday night, four police officers were injured during union flag protests in Northern Ireland. The most serious violence took place outside Belfast - in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus in County Antrim. Officers fired five plastic bullets as rioters threw more than 30 petrol bombs.
Fireworks, petrol bombs and rocks were used to attack police in Newtownabbey and a bus was set alight near the Rathcoole estate. A crowd of more than 100 loyalists threw missiles at police in Carrickfergus. Two arrests were made and of the four police officers who were injured, one required hospital treatment.
Dozens of police officers have been injured in 40 days of protests and more than 100 people have been arrested.
Friday's protests - most of which passed without violence - took place in Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, and Londonderry.
Pensioner jeered
However, in County Antrim, police used water cannon during trouble on the Shore Road in Whiteabbey and also in Newtownabbey, where a PSNI Land Rover with a CCTV camera on the roof was set alight with a petrol bomb.
In Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, a distressed pensioner pleaded with protesters to let him pass through a road block so he could make his way to visit his seriously ill wife in hospital.
The protesters jeered at the elderly man and refused to let him through.
The chairman of one of the groups behind the flag protests said he could not support people being stopped from getting to hospitals but that disruption was inevitable.
Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane condemned the violence.
"This violence cannot continue. People want to go about their daily lives, but are really angry at the disruption they have faced in recent weeks," she said.
"These protests and violence are doing untold damage to traders and businesses and Northern Ireland's image is being tarnished. What we need to do is to show the rest of the world that Northern Ireland is open for business, otherwise potential investors will take their jobs elsewhere."
Conall McDevitt, SDLP, said: This is no legitimacy - this is a craven attempt at the most vicious, barbaric mob rule undertaken by those with no motivation except the destruction of any progress towards a truly shared society."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said it had been a "bad 24 hours for the image of unionism".
"Images of burning vehicles, petrol bombs being thrown at the police, and people who carry the union flag but mask their faces have nothing to do with my vision of being British," he said.
"Street violence from so-called unionists, no matter what age, advances nothing but the cause of Irish nationalism. It is high time those involved in rioting realised they are destroying the very cause they hope to promote."
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