The Brexit is fueling tensions more than ever in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Violent clashes, marked by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, took place during the night of Thursday 8 to Friday 9 April between the rioters and the police. In question, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which shakes a fragile balance between the communities of the city.
Hundreds of young men and teenagers gathered in the early evening Thursday in an area in the west of the city, subject to heightened political and Brexit-related tensions. Some had stacked bricks in a supermarket cart, a journalist from Agence France-Presse noted, while residents were reluctant to speak.
Masked and equipped with balaclavas, they catapulted stones, bricks, firecrackers and bottles towards the roadblocks erected by the riot police, using their armored vehicles. Armed with batons and shields, the police repelled the rioters, while the residents of the neighborhood were reduced to contemplate the spectacle behind their windows. Police then used a large water cannon when a group of men attempted to force a roadblock with a vandalized car.
50 police officers injured since the start of the riots
Using loudspeakers, the police called on the demonstrators to disperse on pain of arrest: “Force may be used,” warned a female voice into the microphone. The police had also tried to appeal to influential people in the community to dissuade residents from joining the riots.
A few dozen elderly people, men and women, gathered Thursday near the sites where the violence of the day before took place, preventing the rioters from approaching or putting out a fire nearby. The violence of the last few days has already left more than 50 injured in the police and resurfaced the specter of the three bloody decades of the “Troubles” between Republicans, mainly Catholics in favor of reunification with Ireland, and Protestant unionists, who 3,500 dead.
Unionists castigate “betrayal” from London
Last week, violence first broke out in the city of Londonderry, before reaching a loyalist district of Belfast and its surroundings, during the Easter weekend. Brexit has weakened the delicate balance in the province, by requiring the introduction of customs controls between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Intended to avoid the return of a physical border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, controls are held in Northern Irish ports. Despite a grace period to allow companies to adapt, these new provisions disrupt supplies and are denounced by Unionists as a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and a betrayal on the part of London.
Stoking tensions, the Northern Irish authorities decided not to prosecute officials of the Republican Party Sinn Fein, who had attended the funeral of a former paramilitary leader despite restrictions against the coronavirus.