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Bus set on fire in Belfast on sixth night of unrest in Northern Ireland

The Guardian logo The Guardian 07/04/2021 Lisa O'Carroll
a person that is on fire: Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

A bus has been hijacked and set on fire in Belfast in the sixth consecutive night of violence in Northern Ireland.

The vehicle was set alight at an intersectional area between nationalist and unionist communities, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Stones were thrown at police while a press photographer was assaulted during the course of their work on Wednesday evening on the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road in West Belfast.

Tyres and bins were set on fire near the interface gates at Lanark Way, which open in a wall that separates the two communities.

Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, condemned the attack, tweeting: “There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.”

Boris Johnson also condemned the violence. The UK prime minister wrote on Twitter: “I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist. The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”

Footage circulating on Twitter appeared to show the bus being petrol bombed while still moving, with about a dozen masked people – including some who seemed to be children – being cheered on as they ran from the scene.

A photographer was also attacked, tweeting that he had been “jumped from behind by two masked male … one pulled me to the ground and smashed @beltel [Belfast Telegraph] cameras”.


Video: PSNI chief condemns 'senseless violence' in Northern Ireland (PA Media)

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Foster described the attack as “disgraceful” expressing hope that the “bullies behind this are brought to justice”.

Police are advising members of the public to avoid the affected areas. “We would appeal to those with influence in the area to use it to help restore calm,” a PSNI statement said. In a statement, PSNI said they have closed the Lanark interface gates and will “monitor the situation”.

Since last Friday there has been nightly violence in parts of Northern Ireland, including in Belfast, Derry and parts of county Antrim, fuelled by loyalist anger over a recent decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin leaders over attendance at a mass funeral.

The Democratic Unionist party has expressed fury over the decision, with Foster, its leader, saying it reflects one rule for Sinn Féin and another for ordinary voters who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and have been unable to attend funerals.

Others have put the blame on people’s anger with Brexit, with Stormont’s justice minister, Naomi Long, saying Boris Johnson’s “dishonesty” over Brexit border checks has inflamed the situation.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board was briefed on the violence and disturbances by Simon Byrne, the chief constable of the PSNI, on Wednesday.

In a statement, NIPB’s chair, Doug Garrett, said it was “truly shocking that in a short space of time, 41 officers have sustained injuries” and said it was “undoubtedly concerning that so many young people have been drawn into the attacks on the police and the consequences that criminalisation may have for their lives”.

Garrett called for a “redoubling of efforts to calm tension and for continued dialogue between the community and policer officers at all levels of the PSNI”.

In an interview with the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast, the European Union ambassador said he understood the “sensitivities” and the “delicate and volatile situation in Northern Ireland”, which he visited last year.

He said the EU was “fully committed in a constructive way to find solutions for those problems” but it had to be “within the limits of the protocol that we have agreed not long ago”.

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