Explainer: What is behind the latest unrest in Northern Ireland?

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Source: Dawn

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Geographically, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. Politically, it’s part of the United Kingdom.

Ireland, long dominated by its bigger neighbour, broke free about 100 years ago after centuries of colonisation and an uneasy union. Twenty-six of its 32 counties became an independent, Roman Catholic-majority country. Six counties in the north, which have a Protestant majority, stayed British.

Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority experienced discrimination in jobs, housing and other areas in the Protestant-run state. In the 1960s, a Catholic civil rights movement demanded change, but faced a harsh response from the government and police. Some people on both the Catholic and Protestant sides formed armed groups that escalated the violence with bombings and shootings.

The British army was deployed in 1969, initially to keep the peace. The situation deteriorated into a conflict between Irish republican militants who wanted to unite with the south, loyalist paramilitaries who sought to keep Northern Ireland British, and UK troops.

During three decades of conflict more than 3,600 people, a majority of them civilians were killed in bombings and shootings. Most were in Northern Ireland, though the Irish Republican Army also set off bombs in London and other British cities.

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