Police in Northern Ireland deployed water cannons for the first time in six years on Thursday evening as rioters ignored cross-community calls for calm, taking to the streets of Belfast on a ninth night of unrest.
Pockets of rioters gathered on either side of the so-called “peace lines” separating Loyalist and Nationalist areas in West Belfast, hurling gasoline bombs, fireworks and pieces of masonry on police, local media reported.
The violence came at the end of a day when the British and Irish Prime Ministers, backed by Joe bidenThe White House had called for calm after a series of riots that have hit loyalist suburbs since March 29 appear to be spreading.
Brandon Lewis, the secretary for Northern Ireland, flew to the region on Thursday and is due to meet with political leaders from across the community on Friday in a bid to reduce political tensions, which have simmered in the region since January.
The Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI) says 55 police officers have been injured since the violence began and banned groups with links to criminal paramilitary organizations have helped orchestrate the unrest.
The violence follows growing political outrage from all major Unionist political parties during the Brexit agreement, which created a trade border in the Irish Sea, as all goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain must follow EU customs rules.
Trade unionists have called for the Northern Ireland protocol, which governs the deal, to be dropped – arguing that it undermines their place in the UK. Boris Johnson’s government is currently negotiating with the EU on how to implement the deal.
But the most recent cause of the violence was loyalists’ anger over a decision late last month not to prosecute nationalist politicians in Sinn Féin for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules to attend the funeral of former IRA leader Bobby Storey last June.
Retaliation for a series of PSNI drug busts against paramilitary criminal gangs operating in loyalist areas north of Belfast has also been cited as another cause of attacks on police by small pockets of young people. The arrests concerned children as young as 13 and 14 years old.
However, this week unrest spread as nationalist areas of Belfast were embroiled in violence, with rival community gangs rallying in the predominantly loyalist Shankill Road and predominantly nationalist Springfield Road.
All political parties in Northern Ireland have condemned the violence, with the region’s power-sharing executive returning early from its Easter recess to issue a joint statement condemning the violence as “totally unacceptable and unjustifiable”.
But while all sides condemned the violence and attacks on frontline police, all major Unionist parties also called for the region’s police chief Simon Byrne to resign, saying he had lost control. community trust.
Johnson and Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin called for calm. They spoke by phone on Thursday and agreed to stay in close contact.