A GROUP of special needs children were forced to flee a Catholic church hall after fresh violence erupted in east Belfast.
Petrol bombs and missiles were thrown at officers and property in the lower Newtownards Road area after the latest night of trouble flared following a demonstration by loyalists linked to the ongoing flag row.
Homes in the Bryson Street and Strand Walk area of the nationalist Short Strand were targeted as ugly scenes broke out.
Earlier, all bus services from east Belfast were suspended "due to two separate incidents".
It is understood one incident involved the attempted hijacking of a double-decker bus.
Amid a heavy security presence, police closed the Newtownards Road between Templemore Avenue and Bridge End and advised motorists and the public to avoid the area.
Trouble flared just hours after PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott and politicians on all sides appealed for calm. Business leaders also warned of the disastrous impact on trade.
A major conference of teachers planned for the city in November has been cancelled because of the continuing disorder – now in its seventh week – in protest at a decision to restrict the flying of the union flag above City Hall.
Around 15 children with special needs were inside St Matthew's Church hall attending a class when a number of petrol bombs were thrown close to the building. A church worker said the group was left "terrified".
"We saw they were trying to throw petrol bombs into St Matthew's Court through the church grounds," he said.
"They had already attacked the police who were guarding the church. Stones were also being thrown. We managed to get the children out safely, but it was very frightening for them."
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnaighaile condemned the violence, describing it as a "blatant, well planned and organised sectarian attack".
"It has nothing at all to do with flags or identity. It is an attempt by unionists to intimidate a small Catholic community," he said.
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said the attack on St Matthew's Church and surrounding houses was a shameful act of hate. He also said the continuing attacks on police were "sick".
To date 101 police officers have been injured, one of whom is still in hospital.