Lines drawn at Drumcree

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The Independent Online
UNIONIST opposition to the Stormont peace accord was focused on Drumcree yesterday as Orangemen converged for a tense stand-off with police and army units.

If David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, was in any doubt that the Anglo-Irish declaration was unacceptable to hardliners, he had only to look at the intimidating 15ft high metal barricade blocking the marchers' route up the Garvaghy Road: "No Government for Sinn Fein-IRA," someone had scrawled. "We would rather stay here, Trimble."

British Army Royal Engineers spent the morning re-enforcing unprecedented defences against attempts by Orangemen to march along the Garvaghy Road, a route that has been denied them by the independent Parades Commission.

The communities in Drumcree are now divided physically as well as by their faiths. Fields have been ploughed up creating muddy mounds to hold back any Protestant extremists intent on violence. On the southern, Catholic side, metal staves draped in razor wire will greet any attempt to storm the route.

Two water cannon have been borrowed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary from the Belgian police. "We have prepared for the worst, but we are hoping for the best," said Sir Ronnie Flanagan, RUC chief constable.

Protestant hardliners gathered early. "We've got to send a message to Trimble that we won't sit in government with terrorists," said one. Another, who joined a parade to the barricade late on Friday, said: "Once bitten, twice shy. There is no way unionists can trust Gerry Adams even if he disarms completely - he can always get more guns."

The level of unionist anger was demonstrated on the "civil rights" Long March from Londonderry to Portadown yesterday when, on the final leg from Lurgan more than 3,000 joined those representing Protestant victims of terrorism.

"The response to the declaration is universally negative here," said Fraser Agnew, a United Unionist member of the Northern Irish Assembly. "Blair has damaged himself badly and united all shades of unionism. He has over-estimated the extent to which protestants are prepared to trust Sinn Fein."

Last night, thousands attended a Long March rally in Portadown at the end of which many were expected to walk to the barricade at Drumcree.

On the Catholic side of the divide, a book was launched yesterday entitled Garvaghy, A Community Under Siege, which features residents' first-hand accounts of the stresses and strains of being a Catholic enclave in a staunch Protestant area. Many of the accounts are harrowing and chronicle a community sinking into anxiety, depression, illness and despair.

Nationalist and author Tim Pat Coogan was at the launch. He said: "People shouldn't have to live like this. This is more like the Deep South in the Sixties or Soweto during apartheid. Let's hope this year will be the last."