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BELFAST, Apr 10 — Irish prime minister Micheal Martin warned against a “spiral back” into sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland today, after a week-long streak of unrest continued with 14 police injured in the latest night of clashes.
Disorder sparked in pockets of Belfast — the regional capital of the British province — last night night with petrol bombs and masonry thrown at officers, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.
A car was also “hijacked and set on fire and pushed towards police lines”, as the total number of officers injured in recent disorder reached 88.
Elsewhere, police clashed with a crowd of 40 in the northern town of Coleraine and a man was charged with “possessing petrol bombs in suspicious circumstances” following disorder in Newtownabbey, a suburb north of Belfast.
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which wound down the three-decades-long sectarian conflict over British rule in Northern Ireland which claimed 3,500 lives.
“We owe it to the agreement generation and indeed future generations not to spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord,” Martin said in a statement.
“There is now a particular onus on those of us who currently hold the responsibility of political leadership to step forward and play our part and ensure that this cannot happen.”
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said it “has been a difficult and worrying week.”
“This anniversary comes as a reminder of the responsibilities we all have, as well as what politics, determination and dialogue can achieve,” he said.
“That is the spirit we need now.”
A Divided Region
The most bitter unrest in recent years has mainly emanated from the pro-UK unionist community.
Resentment is simmering in some quarters over apparent economic dislocation due to Brexit and existing tensions with pro-Irish nationalist communities.
But the violence has since spread into the nationalist community in the divided British province.
“It is incumbent on all of us to support Northern Ireland in leaving its divisive past behind,” said Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis.
On Thursday night, nationalist rioters hurled petrol bombs, fireworks, bricks and bottles at ranks of armoured police vehicles preventing their advance to a unionist enclave.
Officers deployed a water cannon for the first time in years and drove back the surging crowds late into the night.
The previous evening, the gates in a “peace wall” separating unionist and nationalist neighbourhoods were set alight.
Police said crowds from either side broke through to attack each other with petrol bombs, missiles and fireworks.
On Friday marches had been planned in unionist communities in Belfast but they were cancelled following the news that Prince Philip — the husband of Queen Elizabeth II — had died.
“Protests are postponed as a mark of respect to the Queen and the Royal Family,” a hastily erected placard in one unionist neighbourhood announced.
Whilst rioting yesterday was less pronounced than earlier in the week, there are fears it may gain new momentum in the coming days.
“I’m worried about the weekend ahead,” Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister and leader of nationalist party Sinn Fein, told reporters yesterday. — AFP