Leaders call for calm after night of 'serious' violence in Northern Ireland

BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Young people have set a hijacked bus on fire and dropped gasoline bombs on Belfast police on at least the fourth night of serious violence in a week in Northern Ireland when Britain’s exit from the European Union unsettled a troubled political balance .

People threw bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs in both directions over a concrete “peace wall” separating Protestant, British Loyalist and Catholic Irish Nationalist neighborhoods on Wednesday evening.

The Deputy Chief of Police to Northern Ireland Police Chief Jonathan Roberts said several hundred people gathered on either side of a gate in the wall where “crowds … have committed serious crimes, both attacking the police and attacking one another”.

Police are moving in to separate nationalists and loyalists after they clashed in west Belfast, Northern Ireland on Wednesday.Peter Morrison / AP

He said a total of 55 police officers were injured over several nights of disorder.

Recent violence, mainly in loyalist Protestant areas, has escalated amid mounting tensions over trade rules for Northern Ireland following Brexit and deteriorating relations between the parties in the Protestant Catholic government that shares power in Belfast. Britain’s economic separation from E.U. The past year has disrupted the political balance in Northern Ireland, where some people identify as British and want to remain part of the UK, while others see themselves as Irish and seek unity with the neighboring Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the riots and the Belfast-based Northern Irish government held an emergency meeting on Thursday on the violence.

Johnson appealed for calm, saying: “The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or crime.” Northern Ireland’s First Secretary Arlene Foster of the pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy First Secretary Michelle O’Neill of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein both condemned the disturbance and the attacks on the police.

Recent riots followed long Easter weekend riots in pro-UK unionized areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, in which cars were set on fire and projectiles and gasoline bombs were thrown at police officers.

Loyalists embroiled in riot last Friday in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Charles McQuillan / Getty Images

The authorities have accused banned paramilitary groups of inciting chaos among young people.

“We saw young people involved in serious disturbances and serious crimes. They were supported and encouraged, and the actions were staged by adults at certain times,” said Roberts, the chief policeman.

A new trade agreement between the UK and the EU has introduced customs and border controls on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The agreement was intended to avoid controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as an open Irish border helped support the peace process built on the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

This agreement ended decades of violence involving Irish Republicans, British loyalists and British armed forces, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. However, unionists say the new controls represent a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They fear that this could undermine the region’s place in the UK and strengthen ties with the Irish Republic and increase calls for a united Ireland.

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Both the UK and the E.U. I have raised concerns about the way the agreement works and the Democratic Unionist Party, which leads the Government of Northern Ireland, has called for the agreement to be abolished.

Katy Hayward, a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast and a UK senior fellow in a Changing Europe think tank, said trade unionists feel that “the union is very threatened, that Northern Ireland’s place in the union is threatened and it is itself feel cheated. ” London.”

Unionists are also furious at the police’s decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican Army commander in June. Bobby Storey’s funeral drew a huge crowd, despite coronavirus rules that rule out mass gatherings.

Major union parties have called for the Northern Irish Police Chief to resign over the controversy, claiming he has lost the trust of their community.

“They have a very bubbly political atmosphere where those who seek calm and restraint are somehow undermined,” said Hayward.

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