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Police Arrest 20 in Northern Ireland

July 15, 1998

PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Police moved into the fields near Drumcree Anglican church today where Orange Order marchers were protesting a ban on a parade through a Catholic neighborhood, arresting more than 20 people and searching for explosives.

About 300 people massed at a police barrier overnight, and some threw bombs and fireworks at police and soldiers. Police said one man appeared to have a handgun but no shots were fired. No injuries were reported.

Police moved the Orangemen off the field during the afternoon, citing safety concerns, as army specialists were summoned to deal with several suspected bombs.

``Once the security cordon is lifted people will be ready to go back. This is definitely not the end of our protest,″ said Orange spokesman David Jones.

Today was the first time police searched the pasture, site of an 11-day protest by members of Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant fraternal order over a decision blocking them from sections of Portadown. Protesters have said they will stay at Drumcree until they are permitted to march.

Three adults and a juvenile were charged with offenses including criminal damage, obstruction and riotous behavior in connection with the disturbances at Drumcree, police said. A spokeswoman at regional police headquarters in Armagh City, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to say exactly how many people were arrested.

Among the items seized by police were two crossbows, five slingshots, fireworks, five gallons of fuel, ski masks and two spent 9mm cartridges.

Also today, police released without charge one of the two men arrested for questioning about the firebomb deaths of three boys Sunday in Ballymoney, 45 miles north of Portadown. The other man was still being questioned, police said.

The police and soldiers are enforcing a decision by the Parades Commission, created after trouble at Drumcree the past two summers, to forbid the march from going through a hostile Catholic neighborhood in Portadown.

Although crowds outside the Drumcree church have dwindled and violence has ebbed, the men of the Orange Order say they have settled in for a long siege.

``Anybody who thinks that we are beaten and it’s over is totally misreading the situation. We are still going to be here,″ said David Jones of the Portadown Orange Lodges.

``We are reviewing all the time where the protest action should go,″ he said.

Two years ago, officials stopped the march for four days, but gave up in the face of violence across Northern Ireland by Protestant hard-liners. Last year, police simply forced the march through Catholic protesters.

This year, authorities have held firm against widespread violence, which reached a peak Sunday with the firebombing that killed the three young sons of a Catholic woman. The boys were buried Tuesday.

Since the boys’ deaths, some prominent Orangemen have called for the protest to end. But the Portadown lodges reject any responsibility for the violence, and say they are in a fight for their right to walk freely in their own land.

Today, a senior Protestant clergyman accused the Orange Order of contributing to the boys’ deaths. ``Decent members of the Orange Order may not bear direct responsibility, and most will regret this tragedy,″ said the Very Rev. John Paterson, dean of Dublin’s Christ Church cathedral, who was raised in Portadown.

``Younger, more fringe-type Orangemen have been swayed by the type of language used″ by their leaders in Portadown, ``and done things they may regret afterwards,″ he said.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, the Orange Hall in Ballycastle, on the northeast coast, was damaged by firebombs. Trucks and cars were torched at a garage in Craigavon, five miles east of Portadown.

On Garvaghy Road, a short walk away from Drumcree and the object of all the aggravation, residents were feeling more confident.

``People are certainly more relaxed, and think, well, the parade’s not coming down,″ said Dara O’Hagan, a Sinn Fein activist who was elected to Northern Ireland’s new Assembly last month.

Last Thursday, more than 20,000 Orangemen and supporters massed in the pasture near the Drumcree church, when five police officers were injured by bombs and by ball bearings hurled from the crowd. The number of protesters has since dwindled to a few thousand each night.

Monday was the emotional peak of the annual Protestant celebrations, with hundreds of marches celebrating the victory of the Protestant King William over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

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