Protestant Leader Seeks Calm March
LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Hoping to avoid the clashes that have characterized past processions, the leader of Londonderry’s main Protestant brotherhood appealed for a peaceful parade today through this mostly Catholic city.
The annual march of the 15,000-strong Apprentice Boys organization, commemorating the city’s successful defense from a besieging Catholic army in 1689, has often fueled tensions with Catholics or street clashes with police.
But the stubborn Protestant group agreed to impose restrictions on this year’s parade after indirect negotiations with hard-line Catholics, who in turn canceled their plans to block the parade. The agreement was a hopeful sign for Northern Ireland.
Apprentice Boys leader Alistair Simpson urged would-be Protestant rioters to stay out of Londonderry, warning that ``this city will not accommodate or tolerate the use of violence or intimidation.″
As has always been the case since the Apprentice Boys began marching here in the 1820s, the march will avoid directly entering the predominantly Catholic neighborhoods to the west of the city center’s 17th-century stone walls.
But the Apprentice Boys agreed this time to restrict their march in the two sections most objectionable to Catholics: when members walk atop the walls within earshot of the nearest Catholic homes below, and when marchers and bands circle the central square for lengthy periods.
This time, the Apprentice Boys agreed that no more than 1,000 members would march on the walls, and would be accompanied by only one band, which would play no music on the western side of the medieval battlements.
Last year violence flared when members of one Belfast band kicked and punched a few Catholic men watching the parade. Several hundred drunken Protestants then waged running street battles with riot police.
As in past years, the parade will travel from Londonderry’s Anglican cathedral inside the city walls across the broad River Foyle to the predominantly Protestant east side of Londonderry.