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Protestants March, Catholics Protest in Re-Run Of August Clash

October 19, 1996

LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Pro-British Protestants marched Saturday along a wall above Londonderry’s most militant Catholic area after riot police prevented protesters from blocking their way.

The Catholic crowd shouted vulgarities and threw a few bottles and rocks at the marchers as they passed along the 30-foot-wide wall, but no serious injuries were reported.

About 200 members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the city’s pro-British fraternal order _ accompanied by a fife-and-drum band and carrying banners emblazoned ``No surrender!″ _ paraded along the western wall and completed a route they were prevented from taking 10 weeks ago.

Last time, fearing violent resistance by Catholics, the British army closed off entrance points to the wall with iron fencing and barbed wire. This time, the army erected tarpaulin screens along the wall to prevent residents below in the Bogside, the city’s oldest Catholic district, from seeing the Protestant procession.

Police offered a compromise in which 13 Catholic protesters could have held placards beside the parade. But protest leader Donncha MacNiallais, a paroled Irish Republican Army prisoner, refused to accept any police terms.

Instead, two Bogside protesters got past police lines to wave signs with their slogan, ``No Consent, No March,″ before police carried them away. A few hundred Catholics faced off with police lines in the Bogside below, among them the city’s reputed former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness.

``We were not out to harm anyone or cause offense. We were only here to stand for our civil and religious liberties,″ Alistair Simpson, of the Apprentice Boys, said afterward.

The moderate majority of Catholics, represented by John Hume, the city’s member of the British Parliament, had urged militants to accept the Protestants’ right to march in the center of Londonderry, the British-ruled province’s second-largest city. All but a few hundred Protestants already have relocated east across the River Foyle that cuts the city in two.

Hume said it was important to show ``that this city tolerates both traditions.″ He noted that the Protestant march was smaller than originally planned.

In August, the Bogside Residents Group, organized by IRA supporters, demanded that marchers seek their ``consent″ before they marched. Negotiations brokered by Hume failed. Protesters then planned to camp overnight on the walls, but the army’s decision to seal them off defused the confrontation.

The walls were used in 1689 to defend a Protestant garrison from the besieging forces of the deposed English Catholic king, James II. The story is a potent part of Protestant folk memory today and is usually celebrated each August by the Apprentices _ named after young men who bolted the wall’s gates against the king’s forces.

But Catholics say the march celebrates their second-class status in the Protestant-majority province. The marches triggered riots here in 1969 that prompted Britain to deploy troops as peacekeepers. The army presence fueled the rise of a new IRA determined to break Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. The IRA campaign resumed in February after a 17-month cease-fire.

The Ulster Unionists, the province’s largest pro-British party, condemned efforts to block or reroute traditional Protestant marches at their annual conference on Saturday.

Speaking in Ballymena, a mostly Protestant town 40 miles east of Londonderry, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the protesters sought ``to diminish expression of Ulster’s distinctive heritage and identity.″

In July, Trimble led Protestant protesting because police had decided to block a march of the Orange Order, the province’s dominant pro-British fraternity, through the main Catholic enclave of another town, Portadown.

The five-day standoff fueled widespread roadblocks and riots by Protestants, and when police backed down, four more nights of rioting in Catholic areas, particularly in Londonderry.