Ulster braced for violent climax to Orange marches

Security forces on full alert as petrol bombings and street clashes with loyalist protesters continue
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The Independent Online

Northern Ireland once again experienced widespread disruption as loyalists continued their Drumcree protest, blocking scores of roads and in some places engaging in violent clashes with the security forces.

Northern Ireland once again experienced widespread disruption as loyalists continued their Drumcree protest, blocking scores of roads and in some places engaging in violent clashes with the security forces.

A huge security operation will be launched today as tens of thousands of Orangemen and their supporters take part in the 12 July parades which represent the climax of the marching season.

Parades will take place at 17 venues all over Northern Ireland. Although the RUC and troops will be at full alert, the authorities will be hoping for a more peaceful day, since the 12th is regarded by the Orange Order as a family day out rather than an occasion for trouble.

RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who rejected Sinn Fein claims that police had been "standing idly by" instead of taking on loyalist rioters, said he did not believe disruption would last much longer. Police were making a proportionate response to disturbances, being careful not to make matters worse, he said.

Police issued statistics showing that during July 57 police officers and five soldiers had been injured in 280 attacks on the security forces, including 13 shootings. There have been 288 petrol-bomb incidents, with a further 941 petrol-bombs seized. Damage has been caused to 73 houses, 55 other buildings and more than 350 vehicles. Almost 150 arrests have been made, with around half of these resulting in charges.

Although almost all of the violence has come from loyalists, republicans were blamed for a petrol-bomb attack on Orange premises at Aghalee in County Antrim.

Six loyalists were upstairs when the petrol-bombs were thrown into the building. They escaped without serious injury, though a fire brigade officer said: "If the fire had got hold quicker all six might have been trapped."

The Catholic bishop of Down and Conor, Dr Patrick Walsh, warned that Northern Ireland was "in danger of sliding into anarchy." He said entire communities were being harassed and intimidated. Catholic premises, including churches, parochial halls and schools, bore the brunt of a spate of arson and other attacks overnight.

"Those orchestrating violence and fomenting passions and hatred by bitter speeches bear an awesome responsibility," Bishop Walsh said. "What they are doing cannot be justified. What they are doing is morally wrong."

A senior judge, Lord Justice Nicholson, spoke of "Northern Ireland's shame in the eyes of the world." In Londonderry, a Unionist councillor's car was attacked, with youths jumping on the bonnet and roof. In Antrim, youths hijacked and set fire to a car belonging to a nationalist councillor.

More criticism of the violence was heard from members of the order. Jim Rodgers, a prominent member of both the order and the Ulster Unionist party, said: "Thugs and undesirable elements who are anxious to get at the security forces, who want to cause as much mayhem as possible, are dictating the pace of events. We cannot allow this to continue because we are going to get ourselves a bad name."

The Rev Brian Kennaway, a senior Orangeman, said: "The events of recent days have left ordinary rank-and-file members both confused and bewildered. The decent Orangeman, whose voice is not being heard, is appalled by the violent scenes on our television screens.

"Decent Orangemen must stand up and proclaim that the shameful events of recent days are not being done in their name. It is too late to just walk away silently from it."

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