Northern Ireland’s police chief has said loyalist violence over the flying of the Union flag in Belfast will be firmly dealt with for as long as necessary after a fourth night of rioting.
Matt Baggott’s warning came just hours before fresh disturbances erupted in the east of the city, with police once again coming under attack.
A mob hurled steel barriers, bricks, fireworks and bottles at officers patrolling Castlereagh Street.
“I want to commend the tireless courage of my officers at this very difficult time,” said Mr Baggott.
“Fifty two colleagues have now been injured while protecting the community during a series of violent incidents.
“You may be assured there will be sufficient resources in the event of more disorder for however long is necessary.”
Mr Baggott said the Police Service of Northern Ireland would do “everything possible” to maintain law and order and deal firmly with the ugly scenes that had been witnessed over recent days.
He added: “As you have seen in the last few days we will continue to apprehend and put people before the courts.”
A protest in the area earlier on Sunday had dispersed, before factions broke away and launched an onslaught on police lines.
Disorder was also reported on Mountpottinger Road and Beersbridge Road, where a car was set ablaze.
So far, 70 people have been arrested in connection with the sporadic rioting. Through special sittings of the city’s magistrates court, 47 people have already being charged.
On Saturday, frontline officers reported coming under gunfire. A 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
More than 1,000 demonstrators had earlier marched on City Hall, but despite tense scenes and some scuffles the rally passed off without major incident.
As the flag-waving crowds broke up, violence again flared on the Newtownards Road and surrounding areas in the traditionally unionist east of the city.
Around 100 loyalists hurled petrol bombs, fireworks, smoke canisters, bricks and other masonry at officers, the PSNI said. Laser pens were also directed at officers’ faces.
Police responded with water cannon and fired three plastic bullets. One officer was injured.
After a meeting of church leaders, politicians and community representatives on Sunday, Presbyterian minister Rev Mervyn Gibson said there were accusations that police used batons against people who were not involved in the rioting.
“There’s a genuine feeling that there was a change in tactics, that the gloves were off,” he said.
“In these instances, not everybody is a rioter.”
He said unionist leaders would seek meetings with the Policing Board, the local police commander and the local policing partnership.
Billy Hutchinson – who leads the Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force – welcomed attempts by church leaders to ease tensions and called for all protests to be peaceful.