A hijacked bus was set alight in Newtownards and a security alert temporarily closed Belfast City Airport on Wednesday as the PSNI warned of a violent UVF response to earlier bonfire tensions.
There were signs that loyalist anger would give way to serious disorder as early as 7.30pm on Wednesday when a bus was hijacked and set on fire in the West Winds area.
Police said a number of masked men seized the vehicle in Blenheim Drive.
Close to the Ballybeen estate on the outskirts of east Belfast, firefighters were called to extinguish a number of cars that were set on fire.
A PSNI spokesman said: “At around 7.30pm it was reported that a number of masked men, one carrying a suspected firearm, hijacked the bus in Blenheim Drive before setting it on fire. Police and NIFRS are currently at the scene extinguishing the fire. A number of passengers who were in the bus at the time were not injured.”
Motorists were also advised to avoid the Messines Road in the town after burning tyres were placed on the road.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “Police have received Information from the community which indicates that the East Belfast UVF intend to orchestrate and participate in serious disorder in East Belfast this evening directed against my officers.
“I would strongly urge people to desist from engaging in any violent or criminal behaviour. I would also appeal to those who have influence in this community to discourage people from taking part in any illegal activity.
ACC Todd added: “The safety of the public and my officers is of paramount importance and accordingly I will be reviewing my resourcing plans to ensure there is an appropriate and proportionate policing operation in place to deal with any disorder should it occur.”
Community tensions were high in east Belfast throughout Wednesday after masked contractors removed two loyalist bonfires, and a suspected pipe bomb was thrown into the Short Strand area.
A number of unionists had expressed alarm at the large number of officers dealing with bonfires – compared to the operation to protect Protestant residents being attacked in the Fountain area of Londonderry.
However, the PSNI said their decision-making is based on “threat, risk and harm”.