Drumcree nailbomb fear

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POLICE FACING Unionists at the Drumcree stand-off in Northern Ireland are expecting to come under attack from a deadly new weapon - airburst nailbombs.

Just two days after Tony Blair heralded the dawn of peace in the province, detectives have received intelligence that hardliners opposed to the deal have acquired illegal Chinese rocket fireworks which they have packed with six-inch nails.

Last night, thousands of Orangemen marched to the 15ft-high barricade erected to prevent them marching today along the Garvaghy Road - a route denied them by the independent Parades Commission - to voice their opposition to the proposed peace deal. Roger Hutchinson, a Northern Ireland Unionist Party Assembly member, tore up Tony Blair's blueprint for political progress in front of thousands of Orangemen. "This is your blueprint, Tony, it's useless," Mr Hutchinson told the cheering crowd.

The Reverend William McCrea, a Democratic Unionist Party Assembly member, also lambasted the document, produced by Mr Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, after five days of talks failed to find a deal.

Harold Gracey, the Portadown District Orange Order Master who has lived on Drumcree Hill for the past year in protest over the banned parade, repeated his appeal to troublemakers to stay away.

But the Orangemen's heated opposition was apparent from graffiti on the barricade which told the Unionist leader: "No Government for Sinn Fein-IRA. We would rather stay here, Trimble."

Protestants have been angered by unprecedented security in Drumcree including ditches, razor wire, banks of earth and two water cannons.

At least two bands played Orange tunes while people left St John's Catholic Church after evening mass. A woman was also struck by a missile thrown from the Orange side, while some residents complained that threats were made by supporters accompanying the bands.

Police and soldiers around the church kept the rival sides apart. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable, said he was "planning for the worst while hoping for the best". However, the real reason for the heightened security is concern over the kind of pipe-bomb attacks which killed police officer Frank O'Reilly and injured four fellow RUC men at last year's stand-off.

Now, such attacks may come from the air. "We have information that extremists have been manufacturing nailbombs which will explode overhead," said one senior RUC officer. "They are packing these huge Chinese rockets with six-inch nails - and each rocket contains about two pounds of firework explosives. There is nothing we can do about them".

Dozens of pipe-bombs, which are easily constructed from copper piping, gunpowder and oil, have been seized by police this year. Last month, Elizabeth O'Neill, a housewife, died when one was thrown through her living room window by extremists.