Bogsiders change march route

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A little of the heat went out of the tense and expectant atmosphere in Londonderry yesterday after nationalist protesters marched past a loyalist area without incident last night.

An earlier decision to re-route the march was welcomed by both Protestant and Catholic representatives, many of whom still fear trouble when 10,000 or more loyalist Apprentice Boys arrive in the city this morning.

A number of families have moved out of the city, or sent their children away, in anticipation of possible violence. The city was the scene of serious clashes between nationalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary last month.

The Apprentice Boys have said the decision to ban marchers from a section of the city walls which overlooks the Bogside has caused anger in the Unionist community.

Despite the route concession, it was disclosed last night that hundreds of extra troops have been moved to Ulster in case rioting breaks, boosting the total to 17,500. The 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment was flown to Ulster last month after the Drumcree crisis, but was later withdrawn. Troops began returning on Thursday and were fully operational today, the Army said.

In Londonderry, the Army and police have put in place concrete bollards and razor wire to make sure the city's western wall is sealed off from both loyalists and nationalists.

Yesterday, the Bogside Residents Association responded to pressure from churchmen, politicians and Sinn Fein to steer last night's parade away from the Fountain estate, a small Protestant enclave within a mainly Catholic area.

They also agreed not to march to the Diamond, which is only a few hundred yards from an Apprentice Boys' hall. This followed appeals by the city's Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops. The latter, Dr James Mehaffey, said he had told Bogside representatives that Protestants in the Fountain district felt vulnerable. The bishop said he was pleased they had "taken on board in a new way the civil-rights of Protestants".

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had also called for a change in the route. Mr McGuinness said: "It is essential that all of us in this very difficult time recognise the fears of other groups."

Some Unionist representatives dismissed the move as a tactic. Democratic Unionist councillor Gregory Campbell said it would not ease difficulties in the city today. In other quarters, however, there was relief that a step had been taken which might defuse tensions.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that any repetition of the violence seen during and after the Drumcree stand- off could "wound Northern Ireland so deeply that it would take years to recover".