Ulster braced for weekend of disorder

Marches take place against background of Unionist unrest, writes David McKittrick
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The Independent Online
The population of Northern Ireland in general and Londonderry in particular is bracing itself for a weekend of marches and rallies that will bring a high risk of street disorder. Although the army and police have used concrete bollards and razor-wire to seal off the city walls overlooking the Catholic Bogside, nationalists will proceed with plans for demonstrations tonightand on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, 10,000or more Protestant Apprentice Boys are due in the city tomorrow for their annual parade to commemorate the 17th-century siege of the city. They will arrive against a background of Unionist anger at the Government's decision not to allow several hundred of their number to march along the city walls.

The western section of the walls was sealed off on Wednesday after a series of meetings involving the Apprentice Boys, Bogside residents and others, failed to agree on acceptable arrangements for the parade.

Senior RUC sources yesterday accepted that the situation was highly uncertain, but indicated that there were no intelligence indications that loyalists were planning a re-run of last month's Drumcree stand-off. Police thought, however, that republicans from the Bogside might have been planning to occupy the western wall to stop the loyalist march.

The police sources indicated they believed the Apprentice Boys had been well-led and presented a strong case during the dispute. They claimed that residents' associations, by contrast,were being highly in- fluenced by Sinn Fein and the IRA, which they said was "milking the situation".

Leaders of the Apprentice Boys, together with senior Unionist politicians, yesterday met the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, to protest against closure of the walls. The organisation's governor, Alistair Simpson, said they had "relayed the anger, sense of betrayal and injustice felt by the Apprentice Boys and by the wider loyalist and Unionist community." He said that Sir Patrick had "acknowledged it was an unjust decision, but attempted to justify it on pragmatic grounds".

DUP MP Peter Robinson added: "The whole of the Unionist community is outraged at the decision, which is a capitulation to Sinn Fein threats instead of defending those who are in the right." Yesterday brought appeals for calm from a number of sources, particularly churchmen. Dr James Mehaffey, Church of Ireland Bishop of Londonderry, said the Protestant community felt angry and frustrated. He said: "My view is that it's not as serious as some people would make out, but it is still very serious."

A leading Presbyterian minister said that he believed the Friday night march could help ease tensions. The Rev Robert Davey, the church's moderator in Londonderry and Strabane, said: "Perhaps it is better that people should be able to express their views in a sensible way, rather than feeling they have no other way to go.

"The organisers of the parade said it would be peaceful and we have got to take them on their word on this matter."