Adams warning over IRA arms

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As the most important day in the loyalist marching season reached a relatively peaceful climax yesterday, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, warned that the peace process would be at an end if the Government continued to insist on the decommissioning of IRA weapons.

He said John Major was running the risk of squandering the chance of lasting peace by introducing conditions which had not been raised before the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries declared ceasefires 10 months ago.

Mr Adams also criticised the police for sealing off a number streets in a mainly Catholic area of Belfast when residents threatened to block the route of some of the Orange Lodges taking part in one of the 17 rallies staged yesterday.

Residents in the Lower Ormeau Road area were confined to their homes for more than three hours, staging a noisy protest and throwing a number of bottles as marchers passed, though none were hurt.

The Sinn Fein leader condemned the police's handling of the situation, which he said was tantamount to a "curfew" on the area. "They went in with a very heavy hand and placed people virtually under house arrest."

Once the police road blocks had been cleared, hundreds streamed out on to the Ormeau Road where they staged a peaceful sit-down demonstration awaiting the return of the Orange marchers attending the biggest rally on the outskirts of Belfast. In speeches to the throng, the Grand Master of the Orange Order, the Rev Martin Smyth, said loyalists would never accept a united Ireland of any settlement based on the Framework Document.

As he spoke, nationalists in west Belfast burnt two vans, an echo of the violence in the early hours of yesterday when police were attacked as they tried to keep rival factions apart.

Later in the day, Mr Adams held a news conference in which he warned that the peace process was in a logjam because of the Government's failure to involve Sinn Fein in all-party talks. "I think a vacuum has been created and the responsibility has to be placed at the door of John Major because he was given this opportunity and 10 months later he has done nothing other than let it stagnate.

"The feeling here is that the great expectation of 31 August has been replaced by great anxiety. I have no doubt republicans are committed to the peace process, but how long that patience remains I have no idea."

Asked about the Government's continued insistence it must see evidence of arms decommissioning before talks start, he replied: "Then as I sit here today on 12 July 1995, the British government are saying the peace process is finished."