Violence alert over Orange marchers

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The Independent Online
FEARS ARE growing that the massive traditional loyalist rally in Belfast on 12 July could become a flashpoint for sectarian violence after the Orange Order threatened to march 20,000 down the Ormeau Road in south Belfast, next to a Catholic neighbourhood.

The order's plans to switch the annual rally to the area is in protest at the decision by the Parades Commission to ban the local Ballynafeigh lodge, from the nationalist Lower Ormeau, to join the main parade.

Talks have begun between the Orangemen and Belfast City Council to have the rally in Ormeau Park, next to a bridge separating the nationalist enclave and the point past which the local lodge will not be allowed to go down.

Tom Hair, Belfast Orange Order Grand Secretary, said: "If they say no, we will have our demonstration down the Ormeau Road. We are doing this because of the stupid decision by the Parades Commission to ban Ballynafeigh Orangemen from coming down the lower part of Ormeau Road. We are taking legal advice and if the Parades Commission ruling is not not overturned, we will go down the Ormeau Road."

The order insisted that the move to concentrate on the Ormeau Road is not designed to heighten tension or seek a confrontation. The Belfast Deputy Grand Master, Dawson Bailey, said the aim was "to show solidarity...and we would not welcome anyone who is intent on causing trouble".

But senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers said that such a march on a sensitive location with huge numbers would create severe security problems. Resources are already stretched because of the announcement by the Co Armagh Orangemen to switch its own parade to Drumcree to show its support for Portadown Orangemen.

Gerard Rice, of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, said the plan was "absolute madness". He added: "It is ludicrous to bring 20,000 members of the Orange Order to the Ormeau Road and not expect there to be trouble ... given the tension and the situation now ... they will not be able to control 20,000 people."

The Parades Commission said it would not change the decision on the Ballynafeigh parade, especially under duress. A spokesman said: "Changes will only take place if something had happened to alter the basis on which we made the decision, and we certainly would not do it under threat."

As negotiations continued to find a way out of the impasse over decommissioning and the Good Friday Agreement, the Prime Minister in London warned Northern Ireland's politicians that his latest peace plan offered "the only way forward" and urged all parties to accept it as such.

The executive of the Ulster Unionist Party, which has so far refused to endorse the agreement, will meet in Belfast tomorrow to decide on the plan. Northern Ireland's First Minister and the UUP leader, David Trimble, said it was unfortunate that the government had set a 15 July deadline for the proposals. The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said he understood the Unionists needed some space but there must be a change to their " no guns, no government" stance. An Ulster Unionist negotiator, Michael McGimpsey said he had "businesslike, forthright and very direct" talks with Paul Murphy, Northern Ireland political development minister.

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