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Unrest rocks Belfast for eighth night despite calls for calm out of respect for Queen

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Police form a line to separate Nationalists from attacking each other in North Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 9, 2021.
Police form a line to separate Nationalists from attacking each other in North Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 9, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Morrison
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Unrest in Northern Ireland continued for an eighth straight night on Friday but protests were largely subdued out of respect for the Queen following the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The streets of Belfast were much less crowded than in previous days on Friday, when clashes pitted riot police against a crowd trying to approach unionist neighbourhoods.

Demonstrations and marches that had been planned in unionist areas of the capital Belfast were cancelled after the announcement of Prince Philip's death on Friday morning at age 99.

But violence still broke out in some unionist enclaves, including Tiger's Bay, with footage posted online showing protesters hurling stones, petrol bombs and bottles at police officers.

Police Chief Superintendent Muir Clark appealed for calm in a statement adding: "(We) ask anyone who has influence in communities, use that influence to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm tonight."

The reprieve could be short-lived.

"Protests have been postponed out of respect for the Queen and the Royal Family," read posters posted in Unionist areas of the city.

The text added, however, that "opposition" to the terms of the Brexit "and to all injustices" will resume "after a period of mourning."

A man living in a Unionist neighbourhood showed AFP a message that was circulating calling for "an intensification of the demonstrations after the weekend."

The UK's divorce from the European Union has once more sharpened tensions between unionists and republicans.

The biggest issue is that to not breach the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which put an end to decades of deadly sectarian violence — and to prevent a hard border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, customs checks are carried out for goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

In effect, this creates a border in the Irish Sea which loyalists argue undermine the province's role in the union.

The decision by the Northern Irish authorities not to prosecute Sinn Fein officials who attended the funeral of a former paramilitary leader, despite anti-Covid restrictions, also set off a firestorm.

So far, 74 officers have been injured in the week-long bout of unrest and at least four people have been arrested for riotous behaviour.

A police official, Jonathan Robert, said Friday that the violence was "not orchestrated by any particular group", while paramilitary groups had previously been singled out. He called on parents and community leaders to discourage young people from going to the front lines.

Both unionist and republican leaders in Northern Ireland have condemned the "unacceptable" violence while British and Irish leaders have called for "dialogue".