BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Young people set fire to a hijacked bus and threw petrol bombs at Belfast Police on at least the fourth night of serious violence in a week in Northern Ireland, where Britain’s exit from l He European Union has disturbed a difficult political balance. .
People also threw bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs on Wednesday night back and forth at a concrete “peace wall” that separates the Protestant, British Loyalist and Catholic, Irish Nationalist neighborhoods.
Northern Ireland Police Service Deputy Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said several hundred people gathered on either side of a door in the wall, where “crowds … were committing serious crimes criminal offenses, both by attacking the police and by attacking each other “.
According to him, a total of 55 police officers were injured during several nights of disorder.
Recent violence, largely in loyalist and Protestant areas, has erupted amid mounting tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and deteriorating relations between the parties in the government in Belfast, who shares Protestant and Catholic power. The economic separation of Britain and the EU last year upset the political balance in Northern Ireland, where some people identify as British and want to stay in the UK, while others do consider themselves Irish and seek unity with the neighboring Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the unrest and the Belfast-based government of Northern Ireland was holding an emergency meeting on the violence on Thursday.
Johnson called for calm, saying “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or crime.” Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill of the Irish Nationalist Sinn Fein Party have both condemned the disorder and attacks on police .
The latest disruption followed unrest over the Easter long weekend in pro-UK union areas of Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, which saw cars set on fire and projectiles and petrol bombs launched at police officers.
Authorities have accused banned paramilitary groups of inciting youth to wreak havoc.
“We have seen young people participate in serious disturbances and commit serious criminal offenses, and they have been supported and encouraged, and the actions have been orchestrated by adults at times,” said Roberts, the senior police official. .
A new trade deal between the UK and the EU imposed customs and border controls on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK The deal was designed to avoid checks between the Northern Ireland and Ireland, because an open Irish border helped support the peace process built on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
This agreement ended decades of violence involving Irish Republicans, British loyalists and the British armed forces in which more than 3,000 people have died. But unionists say the new controls amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK They fear it will undermine the region’s place in the UK and could strengthen ties with the Republic of Ireland, strengthening calls for a united Ireland.
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Britain and the EU have expressed concerns about how the deal is working, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which heads the government of Northern Ireland, has called for its removal.
Katy Hayward, professor at Queen’s University Belfast and UK lead researcher in a changing Europe think tank, said trade unionists believe “the union is under serious threat, that the place of Northern Ireland is threatened in the union and they feel betrayed by London. “
Unionists are also angry at the police decision not to prosecute politicians in Sinn Fein who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican Army commander in June. Bobby Storey’s funeral drew large crowds, despite coronavirus rules banning mass gatherings.
Major Unionist parties have demanded the resignation of Northern Ireland’s police chief over the controversy, saying he has lost the trust of their community.
“You have a very bubbly political atmosphere in which those who try to urge calm and restraint are kind of undermined,” Hayward said.