A seven-year-old child had a lucky escape after a blast bomb packed with nails was hurled at police in north Belfast.
The device was thrown from the nationalist Brompton Park area of Ardoyne around 5pm yesterday. It exploded near the youngster after striking an armoured PSNI vehicle. Fortunately, no one was injured.
The attack came as trouble flared for a fourth night in parts of the city. Police said that at least four blast bombs were thrown by masked men from Pitt Park in east Belfast at police lines on the Lower Newtownards Road.
Several petrol bombs were also thrown at police during rioting in east Belfast and Mount Vernon in the north of the city, where a car was burnt out. Missiles were also hurled near Broadway.
A loyalist protest against a decision to ban Orangemen marching past the Ardoyne shop fronts was taking place at the time.
Sam Coulter, who was yards from the explosion, said it was fortunate no one was hurt.
"We were standing having a peaceful protest when all of a sudden there was a bang and the next thing we heard the 'tinkle, tinkle, tinkle' of nails dropping on the ground," he said.
"I think it was directed at the protest – police were at the other side of the road behind a Land Rover. Luckily nobody was hurt – just a bit of a bang to the ears."
PSNI Superintendent Emma Bond said it was fortunate that no-one had been injured by the bomb attack. She said: "We consider ourselves extremely fortunate we are not dealing with a much more serious incident and that all the officers were able to walk away from the situation unharmed."
Terry Spence, the chair of the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers in Northern Ireland, said officers were in a difficult position.
"We have been here so many times before where the police are the meat in the sandwich," he said. "Quite clearly this demonstrates how police officers have to be alert and very cautious looking over their shoulder while carrying out public order duties."
At least four blast bombs were thrown at police in east Belfast. Petrol bombs were also hurled after disturbances in the Lower Newtownards Road area.
At least one plastic bullet was fired and water cannons were deployed to quell the disorder.
Up to 200 loyalists gathered along the Lower Newtownards Road as the night progressed, with PSNI Land Rovers on standby in case trouble broke out.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long said there was no excuse for the disorder. She said: "It is totally unacceptable for anyone to attempt to exploit tensions which are running high in the area. I am extremely concerned for those who live in the area and those who police it, whose lives are being put at risk by the reckless actions of other people."
Meanwhile a crowd of up to 50 people were also throwing stones and other missiles at police in the Broadway and Glenmachan Street areas of south Belfast. Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast was also blocked to traffic because of a large protest of several hundred.
Police said there were a number of road closures in Portadown due to the "build-up of crowds".
And in Londonderry officers dealt with white line protests on the main Glendermott and Limavady roads in the Waterside.
Up to 90 people were involved in the protests, which started around 7pm and ended at 8.30pm.
Police seized around 20 paint bombs believed to have been stashed by local youths.
Belfast's Shore Road was also closed for a period after crowds gathered in Mount Vernon.