(Reuters) – Cars were torched and masked people threw gasoline bombs at a police van on Saturday in the second consecutive night of disorder in pro-British parts of Northern Ireland amid mounting post-Brexit tensions in the region.
Many pro-British trade unionists are fiercely opposed to the new trade barriers introduced between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as part of Britain’s exit from the EU and have warned that their unrest could lead to violence.
Political leaders, including the British minister for Northern Ireland, had called for calm early Saturday, but police said they were witnessing reports of disorder in Newtownabbey, on the northern outskirts of Belfast.
A video posted on Twitter by the Northern Ireland Police Federation showed four masked individuals dropping gasoline bombs from very close to an armored police van, which they also kicked and beat.
Fifteen officers were injured in the Sandy Row area of Belfast on Friday when a small local protest turned into a riot. Police said the rioters attacked them with masonry, metal bars, fireworks and manhole covers.
The injuries included burns, head injuries and a broken leg, leading to the arrest and indictment of seven people, two of them 13 and 14 years old. Twelve officers were also injured in separate riots on Friday in the city of Londonderry.
Other political parties on Saturday blamed Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for stoking tensions with its staunch opposition to the new trade deals.
“With their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyal areas,” Gerry Kelly, a lawmaker for the pro-Irish Sinn Fein party, which shares power in decentralized government with the DUP, said in a statement. .
A DUP lawmaker, Christopher Stalford, said the rioters were “acting out of frustration” after prosecutors chose not to charge any Sinn Fein members last week for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions.
The DUP has asked the police chief to resign over the issue.
The British-led region remains deeply divided along sectarian lines, 23 years after a peace deal largely ended three decades of bloodshed. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland, while Protestant unionists want to stay in the UK.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Daniel Wallis