Rebels set a hijacked bus on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Belfast for at least the fourth night of serious violence in a week in Northern Ireland, where Brexit has upset a troubled political balance.
Young people threw projectiles and petrol bombs at police on Wednesday night in the Protestant Shankill Road area, while rebels flipped bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs in both directions over the concrete “peace wall” that separates Shankill Road from an Irish nationalist neighbor.
Northern Ireland Police Officer Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said hundreds of people gathered on either side of a wall wall where “crowds … committed serious criminal acts, both attacking police and attacking each other.”
He said a total of 55 police officers have been injured over several nights with the disorder.
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The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson condemned the unrest, and the Belfast-based Government of Northern Ireland held an emergency meeting on Thursday on the riots.
Johnson appealed 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 nationalists Sinn Fein condemned both the disorder and the attacks on the police.
The recent violence, mainly in pro-British loyalist areas, has flared up amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and worsened ties between the parties in the Protestant Catholic division of power Belfast government.
Recent disturbances followed riots over the Easter weekend in unionist areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, which saw cars on fire and projectiles and petrol bombs hurled at police officers.
Authorities have accused banned paramilitary groups of inciting youth to cause chaos.
“We saw young people engaging in serious disorder and committing serious criminal acts, and they were supported and encouraged, and the acts were arranged by adults at certain times,” said Roberts, the senior police officer.
Britain’s economic split from the EU by the end of 2020 has upset the political balance in Northern Ireland, a part of Britain where some people identify as British and others as Irish.
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 event was designed to avoid control between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, because an open Irish border has helped support the peace process built on the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
The deal ended decades of violence with Irish Republicans, British loyalists and British armed forces, in which more than 3,000 people died. But unions say the new controls form a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain
Unionists are also angry over a police decision not to prosecute politicians from Sinn Fein who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican army chief in June. The funeral of Bobby Storey attracted a large audience despite the rules of coronavirus that prevented mass gatherings.
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The largest trade union parties have demanded the resignation of Northern Ireland’s police chief because of the controversy, claiming he has lost the trust of their community.