Leaders call for calm after fourth night of rioting in Belfast

Leaders call for calm after fourth night of rioting in Belfast


London: Rioters set a hijacked bus on fire and hurled petrol bombs at police in Belfast in the fourth night of violence in a week in Northern Ireland, where Brexit has unsettled an uneasy political balance.

Youths threw projectiles and petrol bombs at police on Wednesday night, UK time, in the Protestant Shankill Road area, while rioters hurled objects in both directions over the concrete “peace wall” separating the Shankill Road from a neighbouring Irish nationalist area.

The police had to close roads into the nearby Protestant area as crowds from each divide attacked each other.

Nationalists and Loyalists clash with one another at the peace wall on Lanark Way in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Wednesday.Credit:AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the unrest, and Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based government was due to hold an emergency meeting Thursday on the riots.

Johnson appealed for calm, saying “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.” Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Irish nationalists Sinn Fein both condemned the disorder and attacks on police.

The recent violence, largely in pro-British loyalist areas, has flared amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and worsening relations between the parties in the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing Belfast government.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which jointly governs Northern Ireland with Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, has called for the Brexit deal to be scrapped.

Hijacked cars burn at the peace wall on Lanark Way as rioting broke out in West Belfast, Northern Ireland.Credit:AP

The latest disturbances followed unrest over the Easter long weekend in unionist areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, that saw cars set on fire and projectiles and petrol bombs hurled at police officers.

Authorities have accused outlawed paramilitary groups of inciting young people to cause mayhem.

Britain’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020 has disturbed the political balance in Northern Ireland, a part of the UK where some people identify as British and some as Irish.

A new UK-EU trade deal has imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The arrangement was designed to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, because an open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process built on the 1998 Good Friday accord.

Nationalists from the mainly Catholic Springfield road area of West Belfast clash with police in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.Credit:AP

The accord ended decades of violence involving Irish republicans, British loyalists and UK armed forces in which more than 3000 people died. But unionists say the new checks amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Unionists are also angry at a police decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican Army commander in June. The funeral of Bobby Storey drew a large crowd, despite coronavirus rules barring mass gatherings.

The main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of Northern Ireland’s police chief over the controversy, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, said the “political atmosphere” was being used as an excuse for violence, orchestrated by banned paramilitary groups.

“Older, more sinister, elements use the youth and use children…to achieve their aims,” Lindsay told BBC radio.


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