People also lobbied with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs Wednesday night in both directions over a concrete “peace wall” separating the Protestant, faithful British and Catholic neighborhoods, Irish nationalists.
Northern Ireland Police Assistant Assistant Police Officer Jonathan Roberts said several hundred people gathered on either side of a gate at the wall, where “crowds … were committing serious crimes, both attacking police and attacking each other”.
He said a total of 55 police officers were injured over several nights of the disorder.
Recent violence, mainly in loyal, Protestant areas, has been fueled by growing post-Brexit trade tensions over Northern Ireland and deteriorating relations between the parties in the Protestant-Catholic government over power-sharing in Belfast. Britain’s economic separation from the EU last year upset 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 an EU member.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the riots and the Northern Ireland-based government in Belfast was holding an emergency meeting Thursday on the violence.
Johnson called for calm, saying “the way to resolve disputes is through dialogue, not violence or crime.” Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and First Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party both condemned the disorder and the attacks on police.
Recent unrest followed riots over the long Easter weekend in pro-British unionist areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, which saw burning cars and shells and petrol bombs being thrown at police officers.
Authorities have accused illegal paramilitary groups of inciting youths to cause mutilation.
“We saw young people taking part in serious disorder and committing serious criminal offenses, and they were supported and encouraged, and the actions were orchestrated by adults at certain times,” said Roberts, senior police officer.
A new UK-EU trade agreement has imposed customs and border controls on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK The agreement was set up to circumvent controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland because an open Irish border has assisted in supporting the peace process built on the Good Friday 1998 agreement.
The deal put an end to decades of violence involving Irish Republicans, British loyalists and the UK Armed Forces in which more than 3,000 people died. But unionists say new controls reach a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They fear it undermines the region’s country in the UK and could strengthen ties with the Republic of Ireland, strengthening calls for a united Ireland.
Both Britain and the EU have expressed concern about how the deal is working and the Democratic Unionist Party, which heads the Northern Ireland government, has called for it to be scrapped.
Katy Hayward, a professor at Queen Belfast University and a senior UK associate at a think tank in Changing Europe, said unionists felt “the union is very threatened, that the country of Northern Ireland is under threat to the union and they feel betrayed by London “.
Unionists are also angry with a police 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 large crowd, despite coronavirus rules banning mass gatherings.
The main union parties have demanded the resignation of the Northern Ireland Police Chief over the controversy, claiming he has lost the trust of their community.
“You have a very sparkling political atmosphere in which those who try to seek calm and restraint are somehow harmed,” Hayward said.
Lawless reported from London.
Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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