A bus has been hijacked and set alight in Co Down in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The incident happened in the Abbot Drive area of Newtownards at about 6.30am.

Two masked and armed men boarded the bus and poured fuel over the vehicle before setting it alight.

The driver managed to get off the bus unharmed, but has been left badly shaken by the incident.

The attack in the predominantly unionist area happened on the day set by the DUP earlier in the autumn to pull down the institutions at Stormont if major changes to the protocol had not been secured.

The DUP has not yet withdrawn ministers from the Executive, insisting progress is being made in efforts to dismantle the contentious Irish Sea border.

Opposition to the arrangements that have created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was a factor behind rioting that flared in several loyalist areas across in April.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson condemned this morning's attack.

"There was never any justification for people with guns on our streets and damaging property - there never will be," he tweeted.

"Thuggery & terrorism will do nothing to remove the NI Protocol. Political action has secured progress and must be allowed to continue. Violence has no place in this."

The incident has been condemned by Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, who described it as "dangerous, reckless and despicable".

"There is absolutely no place in our society for this criminality and violence," the North Belfast MP added.

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SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, who has responsibility for transport provision in Northern Ireland, branded the attack "disgraceful".

"Our bus drivers are frontline public workers, our buses provide a critical community service," she said.

"These cowards with covered faces have done nothing more than attack their own community."

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie tweeted: "Utterly disgraceful, depressing and stupid actions of thugs and criminals. In what way does this help address issues concerning the protocol, it simply hurts their own community. Wise up."

The PSNI appealed to anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information about it to contact police.