Published Saturday, 08 December 2012
Loyalist protesters converge on Belfast City Hall (© Pacemaker)
The Christmas Market was closed temporarily as loyalist demonstrators, many wearing Union flags, gathered at the front of the building.
It comes after a majority of Belfast City Councillors voted in favour of a motion restricting the flying of the Union Flag over the landmark building to 17 days a year.
During the protest, a small crowd gathered around an Irish Tricolour before setting fire to the flag.
UTV Reporter Judith Hill said protesters cheered and waved flags as they walked around the building.
"Some of them have climbed the gates of the front of the City Hall, draping lamp posts and the gates in Union flags," she said.
Others carried large banners proclaiming: "Ulster is British. No Surrender" and "The innocent victims of Ulster cry out for justice".
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson appealed for protesters to keep "cool and calm heads".
"The message that the unionist people have is an excellent one," he said.
"What violence does is it drowns out the message and it can't be heard. I'm asking people to make sure that the message goes across very loud and clear and that is that the Union Flag has been removed from the City Hall."
Up to 300 people walked into the city along the Lower Newtownards Road carrying flags and singing. While many wore scarves to cover their faces, police called for those wearing masks to remove them or face arrest.
A large crowd also walked from Sandy Row to join the protest.
There have been too many nights of disorder across Northern Ireland and now is the time to move forward.
ACC Will Kerr
Saturday was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year, and Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr had called for protesters to stay away. He later welcomed the largely peaceful nature of the demonstration and appealed for calm.
"It is now incumbent on everyone to ensure the wanton scenes of violence we have witnessed in recent nights are not repeated tonight and indeed any other night as we move closer towards Christmas," he said.
ACC Kerr asked those participating in the disorder to "think seriously about the consequences" on Northern Ireland's economy and tourism.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott also thanked the public and traders for their patience during Saturday's protest.
"I appreciate the fact that recent events have had an impact on both the public and traders and I would like to put my appreciation for their patience on record.
"I would also like to commend my colleagues for their professionalism during today's policing operation and indeed in recent days and nights. Once again, they are on the frontline, protecting the public they serve and they will continue to do so over the coming days and weeks."
A total of eight people were arrested for public order offences in the city on Saturday.
The Christmas Market later reopened and traffic diversions in place across the city centre were removed.
© UTV News