Protesters set fire to a hijacked bus and dropped gas bombs on police in Belfast, at least on the fourth night of severe violence in a week in Northern Ireland, where Brexit has destabilized a difficult political balance.
Young men threw projectiles and gas bombs at police on Wednesday night in the Protestant area of Shankill Road, while protesters threw bricks, fireworks and gas bombs in both directions over the concrete “wall of peace” that separates them. Shankill Road from a neighboring Irish nationalist area.
The assistant chief of the Northern Ireland police service, Jonathan Roberts, said that several hundred people had gathered on either side of a gate in the wall, where “crowds … were committing serious crimes, attacking the police and attacking some to others”.
He said a total of 55 policemen were injured in several nights of disorder.
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the disturbances, and the Belfast-based Northern Ireland government was holding an emergency meeting on Thursday about the disturbances.
Johnson called for calm, saying that “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality”. Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein of Irish nationalists have condemned the disorder and attacks on the police.
Recent violence, largely in pro-British loyalist areas, has increased amid growing tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and has worsened relations between parties in the Belfast government, which shares Catholic power- Protestant.
The most recent riots followed the riots over the long Easter weekend in union areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, which saw cars on fire and projectiles and gas bombs dropped on police officers.
The authorities accused illegal paramilitary groups of inciting young people to cause confusion.
“We saw young people participating in serious disorder and committing serious crimes, and they were supported and encouraged, and the actions were orchestrated by adults at certain times,” said Roberts, the senior police officer.
Britain’s economic division of the European Union in late 2020 upset the political balance in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom where some people identify themselves as British and others as Irish.
A new trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU imposed customs and border controls on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The agreement was designed to avoid controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, because an open Irish border helped support the peace process built on the Good Friday 1998 agreement
The deal ended decades of violence involving Irish Republicans, British legalists and the United Kingdom’s armed forces, in which more than 3,000 people died. But union leaders say the new checks amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Union members are also angry 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 attracted a large crowd, despite coronavirus rules that prohibit mass meetings.
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Major union parties demanded the resignation of the Northern Ireland police chief because of the controversy, claiming that he lost the trust of his community.