In an unusual move, Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC chief constable, visited the Orange Order's headquarters in Belfast for discussions on the parade scheduled to pass through the Catholic Lower Ormeau district of the city.
His visit was seen as an indication of the seriousness of concerns that trouble could flare in the area in the wake of last weekend's Drumcree march, which generated widespread nationalist anger. Mr Flanagan said: "This was one of a whole series of on-going meetings to discuss aspects of Saturday's parades. Everyone of any influence whatever should do all that they can to urge restraint."
Among those involved in the talks was Lord Molyneaux, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. In the Lower Ormeau, meanwhile, Canon Peter McCann said there was "terrible anxiety" since Catholics believed the authorities intended to force the parade through the area.
In Derry, several dozen representatives of political parties, community groups and the churches attended a meeting convened by Martin Bradley, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party mayor, aimed at reaching agreement on Saturday's march. But representatives of the Orange Order and the Unionist parties did not take part, so no formal accommodation has yet emerged. Mr Bradley said no more meetings were planned, but his door remained open for face-to-face talks.
"We will still try to hope the Orange Order comes forward and offer some solutions, but we just don't know," he said.
But Alan Lindsay, the city's Orange grand master, dampened hopes that he would meet the mayor, and said the group still planned to press ahead with the parade despite the threat of violence.
The Catholic Bishop of Derry, Bishop Seamus Hegarty, appealed for calm and asked everyone to refrain from acts of violence or inflammatory words which could inflame the present tense situation. His advice was, however, instantly spurned by loyalist and republican paramilitaries. The Irish National Liberation Army warned parents to be careful with their children, declaring: "In the days to come, our units may be called upon to actively engage loyalist and crown forces gunmen. It is imperative that no civilians are endangered or hamper these operations."
The loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters, meanwhile, warned republicans to desist from attacks on Protestant areas, saying there had been attacks on families and businesses and on Orange halls. The UFF said it would "protect loyalist areas from republican aggression." A loyalist died earlier this week when a UFF bomb exploded prematurely in South Belfast.
n A 14-year-old West Belfast boy hit by a plastic bullet on Sunday night was improving slightly today after being moved out of intensive care. Meanwhile, a Shankill teenager, Craig McCann, who was shot in the shoulder by a gunman near Belfast's "peace line" on the same night, was progressing well at Belfast City Hospital.Reuse content