Crowds from Protestant and Catholic communities hurled bricks, fireworks, and gas bombs at police and each other overnight in Belfast, as a week of street violence escalated. Police and politicians tried Thursday to calm the volatile situation in Northern Ireland, where Britain's exit from the European Union has unsettled an uneasy political balance, per the AP. Several hundred people had gathered on both sides of a concrete "peace wall" that separates a British loyalist Protestant neighborhood from an Irish nationalist Catholic area. Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said people were attacking police and each other, while nearby a city bus was hijacked and set on fire. Authorities have accused outlawed paramilitary groups of inciting young people to cause mayhem.
Northern Ireland has seen sporadic outbreaks of street violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord ended decades of Catholic-Protestant bloodshed over the status of Northern Ireland. But Roberts said Wednesday's mayhem "was at a scale we have not seen in recent years." He said 55 police officers were injured over several nights. The recent violence, largely in loyalist, Protestant areas, has flared amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules that 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 the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. But unionists say it amounts to a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The region includes people who identify as British and want to stay part of the UK, as well as others who seek unity with Ireland.
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