Police face up to Orangemen

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Several thousand police will be on duty in Portadown, Co Armagh today amid fears of confrontation between security forces and Orangemen who have been banned from marching through a Catholic area of the town. Troops have also been placed on stand-by. Last night, several hundred people, many of them women and children, gathred in the town centre to protest against the ban.

An RUC decision to re-route the traditional parade away from the Catholic Garvaghy Road district drew angry reaction from Unionist politicians who accused the police of caving in to republican pressure.

Last year the parade produced a three-day stand-off, with thousands of Orangemen camping out until an 800-strong contingent was allowed to walk in silence along the traditional route. Yesterday's decision followed the failure of intense efforts to find a compromise. RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley, said the RUC was "between a rock and a hard place but there is simply no choice".

He added: "I can't see there is anything rational in leading an Orange parade down a road where it will receive significant and sustained opposition." Sir Hugh said he did not want what was in essence a local issue to be turned into a province-wide "Custer's last stand scenario".

Protesting against the decision, the Rev Martin Smyth MP, Grand Master of the Orange Order, said the RUC was bowing to an element which had orchestrated protests.

n Irish President Mary Robinson yesterday attacked the IRA for the bombing of Manchester as she visited the damaged city centre. After meeting victims, she said: "It was an attack on a civilian population - that is not in the name of any Irishness I represent."