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Protestant March Nixed in N. Ireland

July 6, 2000

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ British authorities on Thursday banned a second Protestant parade from passing through Catholic territory, a verdict that could further fuel widespread demonstrations and rioting.

The government-appointed Parades Commission, empowered to adjudicate the Protestant marches that raise sectarian passions each summer, said the Orange Order brotherhood must not march past the Lower Ormeau enclave of Belfast next Wednesday.

Hard-line Protestants have blocked roads, menaced some Catholic homes and attacked police for four days running because of authorities’ decision to stop the Orangemen from marching Sunday through the main Catholic section of Portadown, a mostly Protestant town southwest of Belfast.

In both cases, commissioners ruled that Orange leaders should drop their refusal to negotiate directly with the militant Catholic groups that _ on both Belfast’s Lower Ormeau and Portadown’s Garvaghy Road _ have organized opposition to Orange parades since 1995.

Protestant politicians, churchmen and business leaders all appealed to leaders of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s once-dominant Protestant fraternal group, to withdraw its appeal for mass protests that already has inspired so much mayhem and destruction.

On Thursday, police revealed the scope of the week’s turmoil, saying they had arrested 43 rioters during 109 attacks on police and army units. Thirty-two police officers and one soldier were wounded. And at least 37 houses, mostly Catholic-owned, had been attacked.

Presbyterian Rev. Trevor Morrow, leader of the biggest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, called the week’s riots ``an insult and a disgrace to the Gospel of Christ that we are meant to bear witness to.″

He said Orange leaders should call off all protests ``because they so clearly are out of control.″

Belfast’s shop owners, anticipating more unrest Thursday night, canceled plans to stay open late.

``Of course, we’re losing business but, much more importantly, we’re suffering untold damage to the perception of Belfast in the eyes of the world,″ said Frank Caddy of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce.

Orange leaders declined to say what they would do in response to the ruling barring them from passing Lower Ormeau, a half-dozen side streets off a major Belfast road.

Each July 12 is the Orange Order’s most important date, when tens of thousands march in commemoration of the 1690 defeat of the Catholic King James II by the Protestant King William of Orange. Small parades of Orangemen converge from all directions on downtown Belfast for a mass march to the outskirts.

Last July, when the commission ordered Orangemen to take a bus downtown rather than walk through Lower Ormeau, the organization rerouted its entire Belfast parade to a park near the hard-line Catholic district. That potentially provocative act ended surprisingly peacefully.

This year has proved anything but. British army headquarters reported late Wednesday that security forces had contained 61 riots in Northern Ireland in the previous 24 hours _ more than in all of 1999.

Orange Order leaders insisted they weren’t responsible for violence and refused to halt any protests unless authorities let them parade down Portadown’s Garvaghy Road.

That march is intended to commemorate Protestant losses during World War I, but Catholics see all Orange marches as designed principally to provoke them.

Martin McGuinness, the former Irish Republican Army commander who is education minister in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, said during a visit Thursday to the Garvaghy Road that Orangemen and their supporters seemed to have no coherent strategy.

``They appear not to be able to see the great damage they’re doing to their own cause,″ said McGuinness, whose IRA-linked Sinn Fein party holds two of the 12 posts in the joint Catholic-Protestant administration created as part of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord _ a pact many Protestants oppose.

McGuinness spoke alongside Breandan MacCionnaith, the former IRA prisoner who leads the Garvaghy Road protesters. Portadown’s Orange leaders have refused to talk to MacCionnaith, citing his IRA background.


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