Belfast District commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls has said up to 300 people were in attendance at the riots in Sandy Row, with 15 police officers injured and seven people arrested.
First Minister Arlene Foster urged young people “not to get drawn into disorder”, saying violence “will not make things better”.
The DUP leader said: “I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better.
“And I send my strong support to all of the rank and file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend.
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“I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives.
“I also ask parents to play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults.”
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, described the unrest as “completely unacceptable”.
Mr Lewis said: “Violence is never the answer. There is no place for it in society. It is unwanted, unwarranted and I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm.”
He added that his thoughts were with the officers injured.
The rioting comes as anger grows within loyalist communities around post-Brexit trading arrangements, which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as well as the decision not to punish 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending the funeral of Bobby Storey – the former head of IRA intelligence – during Covid-19 restrictions.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Chf Supt Walls said: “Police were in attendance in Sandy Row last evening [Friday, 2 April] when a small local protest quickly developed into an attack on police officers.
“A total of 15 officers were injured after being subjected to a sustained attack by rioters who threw a number of objects at police, including heavy masonry, metal rods, fireworks and manhole covers. Their injuries include burns, head and leg injuries. As a result, we now have four officers who cannot report for duty as a result of their injuries.
“The majority of those involved in the disorder last night were young people. In fact, two of the eight people arrested were two young boys aged 13 and 14. By engaging in this type of behaviour they are not only risking their safety, they are also risking their futures.
Chf Supt Wall concluded: “I understand there are significant tensions and unease in some communities. My job is to keep people safe and I would ask that anyone who has any influence in communities – whether parents, guardians, community or elected representatives – please, use that influence to ensure young people are kept safe and away from harm.
“Local communities deserve to live in safe and peaceful areas, free from rioting and violence.”
The trouble came after four successive nights of disturbances in the unionist Waterside area of Derry.
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