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Panel Restricts N. Ireland March

June 16, 1998

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A Protestant march through north Belfast must steer clear of Catholic neighborhoods later this week, a commission ordered Monday in hopes of preventing riots.

Several thousand members of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s major pro-British Protestant fraternal organization, had planned to snake their way through some of Belfast’s most bitterly polarized streets Friday.

But Catholics led by supporters of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party had vowed to block their way, all but guaranteeing a repeat of the street violence when the parade when was last held in 1996.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission _ empowered this year to rule whether traditional Protestant marches can go ahead in areas where militant Catholics have organized opposition to them _ announced that the parade should be barred from entering predominantly Catholic streets.

Commission chairman Alistair Graham said Friday’s march, if allowed to proceed without restrictions, would ``be even more explosive than in l996.″

On Friday, several hundred anti-riot police officers will seal off the parade route near the point where predominantly Protestant-occupied residences give way to Catholic turf.

Orange Order leaders said they would hand in a letter of protest at police lines before doing a peaceful U-turn, but couldn’t guarantee that some of their supporters wouldn’t stick around to cause trouble.

``It’s time the government got its act together and dealt with the real troublemakers,″ the order’s executive officer, George Patton, said in reference to the Catholic protesters.

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