Trouble has flared for a second night running in east Belfast, with disturbances breaking out after a crowd gathered in the loyalist lower Newtownards Road area.

A photographer has been shot in the leg during the violence. He has been taken to hospital.

Rival crowds of nationalists and loyalists have thrown bricks, petrol bombs and fireworks at each other.

A large number of PSNI riot police are on duty in an attempt to prevent the serious unrest of last night when two men suffered gunshot wounds.

A police helicopter is monitoring the situation and two water cannons have been brought in.

Police are advising motorists to avoid the lower Newtownards Road area, and say officers are liaising with community representatives in an attempt to calm the situation.

Last night, shots were fired by nationalist and loyalist crowds during the disturbances in the Short Strand area.

Witnesses said petrol bombs and pipe bombs were thrown at houses. A Catholic church was also attacked.

Presbyterian minister Reverend Mervyn Gibson said houses on the Newtownards Road were attacked and two young Protestant men were shot in the legs.

'They were not life-threatening in my opinion but they were certainly gun shot wounds,' he said.

He said homes were under sustained attack for hours.

It has been reported that up to 500 people were involved in the rioting, which broke out in the Lower Newtownards Road area at about 8pm.

Police believe members of the East Belfast UVF were involved in co-ordinating the disturbances.

Two shots were fired at a police vehicle from the loyalist side.

The PSNI says it is treating the incident as attempted murder and it will have an increased presence in the Short Strand area in the coming days.

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt, who was in the Short Strand last night, said the unprovoked and orchestrated attack did not augur well for the marching season.

Sinn Féin blamed groups of masked men for launching coordinated attacks on the nationalist Short Strand area.

Lord Mayor of Belfast and Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said a number of local residents had been injured.

Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland said he believed the latest violence followed earlier incidents in which loyalist homes were targeted.