Protestants Exchange Fire with Police in North Ireland

Published July 5th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Barricades, broken glass and smoldering cars dotted half a dozen flashpoints in Belfast early Wednesday, as anti-Catholic extremists vented their rage at British authorities' determination to restrict traditional Protestant parades from Catholic areas, according to The Associated Press. 

The agency said that violence in the British province escalated during a second night of unrest by hard-line Protestants. Police exchanged shots with gunmen in a Protestant area of north Belfast on Tuesday night, and masked youths hijacked vehicles and set them on fire in several parts of the city.  

The clashes have once again raised serious questions over the stability of the peace process in Northern Ireland, as the volatile marching season whips up strong feeling on both sides of the sectarian divide, reported AFP.. 

It said that in the provincial capital, protestors let off bursts of gunfire, drawing return fire from police, as violence broke out in a notorious Protestant stronghold, police said. No one was injured. 

The incident occurred at around 11:00 p.m. (2200 GMT) in the Shankill Road area of Belfast as police tried to intervene in trouble between two rival crowds. 

"The Protestants drove a lorry at the police lines and then there was gunfire from the lower Shankill Road area," a police spokesman said, adding that police were treating the incident "very seriously". 

"Fire was returned. There are no reports of injuries," he said. 

Near the volatile town of Portadown, 30 miles to the southwest, police used water cannons – rarely deployed in Northern Ireland – to disperse several hundred people protesting the banning of a Protestant march through a Catholic neighborhood this Sunday, added the AP. 

The paramilitary outlaws coordinating the mayhem have warned that rioting will intensify unless the Orange Order, a legal Protestant fraternal group, is allowed to march along the disputed Garvaghy Road. Britain and the province's police commander, Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, say that won't be allowed to happen.  

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, was quoted as condemning the violence as "thuggery, nothing more and nothing less."  

Many Catholics despise Orange parades, which often feature drum-thumping "kick the pope" bands and commemorate 300-year-old Protestant victories over Catholics. More than 2,000 such parades are staged each summer, only a few dozen of which go through predominantly Catholic areas, said the agency.  

Confrontations over Orangemen's thwarted efforts to parade down the Garvaghy Road ignited widespread street violence in 1996, 1997 and 1998.  

Relative peace reigned last year after Orange leaders opted not to challenge a joint police-army blockade at their Portadown march's midway point, an Anglican church near the Catholic area.  

But history appears set to repeat itself with tensions and destruction mounting – and some of the province's most feared terrorists returning to the fore.  

Politicians from all sides on Tuesday criticized Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, a leading Belfast member of the outlawed Ulster Defense Association who was paroled from prison this year under terms of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, said the AP – (Several Sources) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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