Orange march deal collapses

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Belfast is braced for a fresh outbreak of trouble today after a deal between loyalists and nationalists over the routing of an Orange parade collapsed.

Nationalists are threatening to blockade a bridge linking the Upper and Lower Ormeau Road today to prevent the march passing a Catholic area. At an emotionally charged public meeting off the Catholic Lower Ormeau Road yesterday, furious residents vowed to block the route after Unionists appeared to go back on the settlement that brought a fragile solution to the stand-off at Portadown.

Their anger was fuelled by what they saw as backtracking by David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, over the Portadown agreement to allow Orange marchers along Garvaghy Road, a nationalist area of the town, on condition that no further march was held today.

Yesterday, after agreeing to a brokered compromise, Mr Trimble appeared to give his backing to another Portadown march today. At last night's meeting, attended by some 300 Catholics, another compromise was rejected unanimously because community leaders felt they could not put their faith in Unionist promises.

There had been optimism that deals would be agreed across the six counties where marches are planned after the compromise reached yesterday to enable Orangemen to parade past a Catholic area of Portadown. It was hoped that similar accommodations could be achieved to allow the most important day in the loyalist marching calender to pass off peacefully.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, appealed for a period of calm reflection. "The peace process is embedded in the hearts of the people. They are not going to let it go. I would like to see people being fulfilled in their wish to see their politicians round a table talking through their difficulties."

His words appeared to be given force by the deal reached in Portadown through the shuttle diplomacy of mediators between Unionist leaders, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Catholics in the town's Garvaghy Road.

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