Thousands of loyalists gathered in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

A major security operation is under way to prevent more trouble breaking out at the demonstration in front of City Hall.

There was a heavy police presence in the area but the atmosphere was said to be calm and the crowds have already began to disperse.

belfast protests

Crowds gathered on Saturday, after overnight clashes with police

Eight police officers were injured and more than a dozen people arrested during overnight clashes between loyalists and riot police.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr earlier confirmed Loyalist paramilitaries have been orchestrating some of the violence seen in the past 24 hours.

He had appealed to those planning on going in to the city centre to protest to stay away and let people get on with everyday business such as Christmas shopping.

belfast protests

Protests on Saturday were largely civil

"We are also warning anyone who does engage in criminal activity that they will face the full rigours of the law," he said.

"Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all and we will robustly investigate all incidents."

"I am urging everyone to be calm, take a step back and think about how this violence is affecting not just their own communities but the whole of Northern Ireland."

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  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalists protesters in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalists protesters in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalists protesters in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalists protesters in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday December 8, 2012. A major security operation is under way to prevent more trouble breaking out at the demonstration in front of City Hall. There was a heavy police presence in the area but the atmosphere was said to be calm and the crowds have already began to disperse. Eight police officers were injured and more than a dozen people arrested during overnight clashes between loyalists and riot police. PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr earlier confirmed Loyalist paramilitaries have been orchestrating some of the violence seen in the past 24 hours. See PA story ULSTER Violence. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Protesters attempt to burn an Irish tricolour in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalists protesters in Belfast city centre for a protest against new restrictions on flying the Union flag.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags break through the gate of the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags block the back of the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags block the back of the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags block the back of the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.