Tensions ease in North Belfast

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The Independent Online

Loyalist protests fell silent today as sectarian tensions eased in north Belfast.

Protestants turned their backs when Catholic children and their parents were given a police escort to Holy Cross Primary School.

Unlike the previous four days of bitterness, a blast bomb and whistling, there was no sectarian abuse – raising hopes that some sort of compromise can be reached.

The residents agreed to a silent demonstration as a mark of respect for a Protestant boy killed in another part of north Belfast.

At one stage today, Protestant and Catholic clergymen prayed for Thomas McDonald,16, whose funeral was taking place at his home in the White City district, three miles away.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid urged politicians on all sides to help calm the situation and make a new effort to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who was in Ardoyne today, called for an end to the protest, but also said republicans should be prepared to reach out to their Protestant neighbours.

With some Protestants preparing to move out of the area for good because of the violence and intimidation, Mr Adams said he empathised with them. But there had to be understanding on both sides.

He added: "I accept entirely that republicans have to be open to and reach out, and be part of a process, because we all have to live together in this city."

After leaving their children at school, parents said they were relieved there had been no trouble.

Lisa Irvine: "The death of the young boy was a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, no matter what religion. We respect what they (the Protestant residents) did. We also held a minute silence."

There have been no face–to–face talks to try to resolve the dispute, but it is understood mediators are involved putting forward a number of proposals which they believe might give the two sides some breathing space.

But with Dr Reid back in Belfast after cutting short his summer holiday, the pressure is expected to intensify. He is having more meetings with his officials today.

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