Loyalists in Belfast Union flag protest breach Parades Commission ruling
Loyalist protesters have gathered at Belfast City Hall on the anniversary of a council decision to limit the flying of the Union flag.
But those who turned out breached a Parades Commission decision to leave the city centre by 12.30pm
Crowds continued to gather as bandsmen played, with hosts of Union flags on show.
Police told those gathered they were now part of an illegal parade shortly after midday - with large matrix signs also stating the breach.
There continues to be a huge police presence in the city, with dozens of Land Rovers on standby heading towards the Carrick Hill area of north Belfast before heading towards Woodvale.
But while the protest blocked off the front of the City Hall, hundreds of shoppers filled out the Christmas market.
There were fears among traders that yet another protest parade could have a devastating impact on trade - especially on the run-up to the festive period.
Protesters left City Hall at around 1.15pm - clearing the city centre by 1.35pm, over an hour after the Parades Commission determination.
There had been hopes among organisers that numbers could reach 10,000.
Although there are now exact numbers, it appears between 1,000 and 2,000 turned out.
The protest was held to mark the first anniversary of a council decision to limit the flying of the Union flag - after it was given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission earlier this month.
The parading watchdog had ruled it should depart City Hall by noon and be clear of the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street by 12.30pm.
Flyers circulated online had encouraged people to gather at 1pm for the 'human rights parade', which will march to the Woodvale area of north Belfast.
The latest protest renewed fears of an impact on traders in the city centre - already suffering after months of Union flag protests and demonstrations since last Christmas.
This march took place on one of the busiest trading days of the year.
Earlier this week First Minister Peter Robinson called for those involved in the parade to protest in a way which causes the least damage to the economy.
Belfast Telegraph Digital