Police have fired baton rounds and deployed water cannon on rioters as violence linked to the Union Flag row flared in east Belfast again.

The fifth successive night of trouble in the area came after hundreds of loyalists staged a largely peaceful protest at Belfast City Hall.

The disorder erupted as around 250 demonstrators from east Belfast returned from the city centre past a volatile community interface at the republican Short Strand. Police said a number of missiles were thrown at the protesters from the Short Strand area, where around 70 youths had gathered.

The trouble soon spiralled from there as police moved up the adjacent Newtownards Road to separate rival factions. Officers were attacked with petrol bombs, paint bombs, fireworks and heavy masonry while rioters damaged vehicles with hatchets and sledge hammers.

Protesters constructed a barricade in the middle of the road and set it on fire. Police also received reports of an attempted car hi-jacking in the nearby Templemore Avenue area and attempted lorry hi-jacking in the Albertbridge Road area.

Police deployed water cannon and five baton rounds were fired. Calm was restored around 10pm on Monday.

The earlier demonstration at Belfast City Hall came as the council met for the first time since its controversial decision to limit the flying of the flag on the roof.

Loyalist protests have been continuing across Northern Ireland since early December in response to the vote by Belfast councillors to only fly the flag above City Hall on designated days instead of all year round. The first of these days is this Wednesday, when the flag will be raised to mark the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.

More than 60 police officers have been injured in flag-related unrest in the last five weeks, with around 100 people arrested. On Monday night, two males and two females were arrested in east Belfast for riot and public order offences.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott claimed senior members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had been orchestrating the street violence in east Belfast. Mr Baggott said there was no evidence that the organisation's leadership endorsed their actions.