Flags protest at Belfast City Hall

Crowds marched around City Hall on Saturday.

Around 1,000 people have taken part in a loyalist flag protest, which passed off without incident outside the gates of Belfast City Hall.

Saturday, 15 December 2012
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They gathered in city centre from around 1pm on Saturday.

UTV reporter Marc Mallett, who was at the scene, said the protest group circled the building amid a heavy police presence.

No speeches were made and they later dispersed along Donegall Place.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told a pocket of protestors to remain peaceful.

"We need to stand in solidarity with these people," Mr Hutchinson said.

"They came here for a peaceful protest and what I'm trying to do is make people understand that they need to stay legal in all of this.

"I'm not going to make promises to anybody but what I'm saying is we're going to try and put the flag back.

"It may have been a democratic decision by people in City Hall but I think the process was flawed."

I don't want to lead anybody up the wrong road but the idea is it might be back, but we will have to see.

Billy Hutchinson

Earlier, hundreds of people linked arms around City Hall in a peace vigil against the unrest which followed the council's decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag.

A large crowd also gathered at George Square in Glasgow in Scotland to voice their opposition to the decision on Saturday afternoon.

Last weekend Belfast city centre came to a standstill and the Christmas market was briefly closed as around 2,000 people protested.

This weekend the market has remained open. It has also been announced it will stay for an extra three days to make up for time lost.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the PSNI has been doing all it can to prevent disruption to a busy day of shopping.

He added: "Today is one of the busiest days of the year in Northern Ireland's commercial and social calendar.

"Police are determined to do everything we can to ensure people are safe and can go about their lawful business.

"People have a legitimate and democratic right to peacefully protest in relation to this issue. Police are determined to ensure their rights are upheld and we remain fully committed to delivering a safe and secure Christmas for everyone."

Police said roads in city centre have now been reopened to traffic.