Death threat increases tensions over Drumcree march

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A death threat from a small but ruthless loyalist group has added an extra dimension of anxiety to a Northern Ireland already gripped by fears that widespread disorder could follow Sunday's Drumcree march.

With no sign of agreement visible between Portadown Orangemen who insist they should march and local Catholic residents who insist they should not, any action the authorities take seems destined to enrage either loyalists or republicans.

Yesterday's threat came from the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a breakaway group associated with the notorious loyalist gunman "King Rat," which is centred in Portadown and district.

It could hardly have been blunter: "If the Orange parade does not go down the Garvaghy Road on Sunday, the Irish government may expect civilians to be killed in the Irish Republic. This threat will be carried out immediately if the parade is banned."

The threat came as no surprise to the security forces, who for some time have been aware that the LVF, having played an important part in last year's disorder, was planning to do the same again. Last month the government declared the group illegal.

Although the LVF threat was confined to the Republic, many expect that if a crisis develops its members will also engage in violence within Northern Ireland. The Orange Order has its own plans for protests and roadblocks, but these are said to be non-violent.

Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis criticised the Irish government, whose ministers had this week told the British government that it would be folly to force the parade through.

The new Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said: "Nobody wants to see the march forced through as it was last year. Nobody wants to see people reined in as they were last year."

Mr Maginnis declared: "These utterances have been more than unhelpful in so far as they imply a threat against the Unionist tradition."

Catholic women have set up a "justice" camp in Portadown in an attempt to persuade the British government not to allow the march.

The camp will stay open 24 hours a day until the parade takes place. More than ten tents have been erected on the Garvaghy Road site.

As a result of anticipated disturbances, thousands have arranged their holidays to coincide with Drumcree and will not be around when the crunch comes.

In the atmosphere of impending crisis, many who remain are stocking up with food and other provisions.