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Violent Protests Over Brexit Continue In Belfast

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Protesters clashed with police again in Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast, last night. This has been happening for days. And the violence is a response in part to a new trade border created by Brexit. And the images of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails, police firing water cannons, it's all a vivid reminder of the history of political violence in Northern Ireland. NPR's Frank Langfitt is there in West Belfast. Frank, thanks for being here. Just describe where you are and what you're seeing.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah. Where I am is actually where a lot of the violence was last night. I'm actually at one of the peace walls. These things are - they're sort of metal barriers and concrete barriers that were built back during the Troubles in the '70s and the '80s to divide the Catholic and the Protestant communities here. And last night, you had people - you had police trying to keep particularly pro-Irish nationalists at bay with the water cannons. I can see one of these walls is all - has all these burn marks on it from a van that was driven into it, lit on fire a couple of nights ago. And so you're very, very much right. The kinds of scenes here are scenes we haven't really seen in a number of years in Belfast and seem almost something from the past.

MARTIN: Can I ask you to get into the details a bit and explain how...

LANGFITT: Sure.

MARTIN: ...Brexit has brought this on?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's - the facts that have led to this new round of violence are very complicated. But the Brexit component is, I think, very interesting. Because Brexit meant leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom had to create this new internal customs border that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., of which, of course, Northern Ireland is a part. And I know that sounds kind of technical to people. But from sort of an identity perspective, a lot of people in Northern Ireland who've been very loyal to the Crown - loyal to Britain feel like they're being cut off. And they - some of them fought the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles to remain a part of the U.K. And they're also concerned that down the line, there's going to be a public vote at some point that could lead to the reunification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south, the very thing that they oppose. This morning, I was talking to Sarah Creighton. She's a political analyst here. And she described how many loyalists, people who really want to remain a part of the United Kingdom, feel right now.

SARAH CREIGHTON: People are just always ultimately afraid of being betrayed or left behind or abandoned. That uncertainty, that anger, you know, that's thought as being - it's fear, you know, and worry, I would say, for a lot of people.

MARTIN: Interesting. And, Frank, I mean, when you look at the images of what's happening, some of these rioters are really young, at least they look that way. What does that say?

LANGFITT: I think a lot of people are depressed by what they're seeing. And certainly, when I was out last night, it did feel like these old newsreels from the '70s were coming back to life. This is, of course - there was the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which was supposed to have ended all of this - not quite, clearly. And what people are really upset about is to see a new generation seeming to come into this...

MARTIN: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...After this was supposed to be put to rest. There's a woman named Naomi Long. She leads the centrist alliance - centrist party here, the Alliance Party. It's a centrist party here. And she was speaking in Northern Ireland parliament yesterday. And this is what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAOMI LONG: I watched adults old enough to be their parents, old enough to know better, standing by, cheering and goading and encouraging young people on as they wreaked havoc in their own community. This is nothing short of child abuse.

MARTIN: Frank, any sign the violence is going to abate?

LANGFITT: No. We're expecting more tonight. And I'll be out again tonight and reporting on what we see here on the streets of West Belfast.

MARTIN: OK. We'll keep checking in with you. NPR's Frank Langfitt in West Belfast. Thank you.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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