Police inBelfast have described a petrol bomb attack on a patrol car as ‘attempted murder’ as violent protests over the Union flag continue across Northern Ireland.

An officer protecting an Alliance party deputy was attacked on Monday on another night of rioting and sporadic violence.

The policeman was sitting in an unmarked car outside the offices of MP Naomi Long when a gang of 15 loyalist thugs attacked.

They tossed a petrol bomb into his unmarked vehicle after surrounding and smashing it outside Alliance Party offices.

Loyalists have targeted the Alliance Party after they voted in favour of only flying the Union Flag at Belfast’s City Hall on 17 specified dates every year.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are viewing the petrol bomb attack on the officer as attempted murder.

Read more: Loyalist demonstrators burn two Irish tricolours at Belfast flag protest

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “The officer was lucky to escape with his life.

“This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger and it is fortunate there were no injuries.”

Petrol bombs were also thrown at police in south Belfast, close to the M1 motorway.

Unionist politicians are to meet on Tuesday in an attempt to diffuse the crisis.

Alliance Party MP Long condemned the attack on the policeman and the ongoing violence.

She said: “There can be no justification for the attacks. If Northern Ireland is to move forward then we need a strict adherence to the rule of law and respect for the democratic process. We need this urgently before lives are lost.”