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Belfast braced for more violence

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Security forces in Belfast are preparing for the possibility of more violence after the escalation of a three-day confrontation outside a Catholic school.

Three Protestant militants were arrested on suspicion of throwing a bomb on Wednesday that injured two police officers guarding Catholic children.

Children, aged between four and 11, screamed in terror and one woman fainted after the blast as they were being hurried along a security corridor towards the school.

Anne Tanney, the head teacher at the school, said some of the girls arrived in "a terrible state of panic."

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CNN's Matthew Chance: Parents and children shaken and upset
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"I'm really horrified and disgusted that this kind of thing could happen to children. To think that someone would throw a blast bomb is unbelievable," Tanney told the Associated Press.

The Rev. Aidan Troy, governor of the besieged school, who has urged Catholic parents in vain to use a rear entrance not threatened by the pro-British Protestant mob, said: "It was awful that a policeman was hit, but it could have been one of those little girls. That has been my fear all along."

Nearly 100 girls -- two-thirds of the student body -- were given lessons and came to school, doubling the numbers from Tuesday.

Later in the day the children were escorted from Holy Cross back down the Ardoyne Road by parents and police. Apart from a few jeers from loyalist youths the crowd did not encounter any protests.

More than 40 police officers have been wounded since rioting began on Monday in Ardoyne, a predominantly Catholic neighborhood.

The besieged school lies in Ardoyne's small Protestant area, where residents insist no Catholics will be welcome until attacks on their own homes end.

Protestant youths on Wednesday evening threw rocks, golf balls and debris over police lines, The Associated Press reported. Dozens of police and soldiers took cover behind a row of armoured vehicles that separate the two communities.

About 250 petrol bombs and 15 blast bombs were thrown at police lines during disturbances near the area during Tuesday night.

Rubble was strewn across the Ardoyne Road on Wednesday as well as the nearby Glenbryn area where a large crowd of loyalists threw bottles, bricks, fireworks and ball bearings at the security forces.

Tensions in Ardoyne have spread to other parts of north Belfast, the most bitterly divided side of Northern Ireland's capital. A Protestant teenager was fatally run over on Tuesday in what police suspected was a deliberate murder by a Catholic driver, the only death so far to be linked with the street anarchy.

Britain is now facing pressure to clamp down on the Ulster Defence Association, the outlawed Protestant group blamed for many recent attacks against Catholics.

The UDA is supposed to be observing a cease-fire in support of the province's 1998 peace pact, and more than 200 members were given early paroles from prison as part of the deal.

The Red Hand Defenders, regarded by police as a cover name used by UDA members, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack.

Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, Dr. John Reid, announced he would return on Thursday to Belfast, cutting short a holiday in France. Reid previously ordered two senior UDA figures imprisoned indefinitely in response to violence by the group.

As Northern Ireland Office security minister Jane Kennedy met unionist and nationalist representatives to discuss the situation, Gerry Adams, president of the republican political party Sinn Fein, called on loyalists to abandon the protest.

Accusing hardline Protestant politicians and loyalist paramilitaries of exploiting the situation, the West Belfast MP told the Press Association: "There can be no excuse, no justification for the sectarian abuse and violence directed at the children and their parents as they try to make their way to school."

Billy Hutchinson, of the Progresive Unionist Party whose party is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), later condemned the bomb attack and accepted he had helped inflame the tense situation.

The Northern Ireland assemblyman for North Belfast said: "I was disgusted to be a loyalist this morning when I saw that happen and I won't change that statement.

"But I will stand with this community to protect their rights and I will argue for them as an elected representative.

"We can't walk away from this, this thing needs to be finished in a structured way, not in an unstructured way."






RELATED STORIES:
• Belfast appeal after school clash
September 3, 2001
• Gunfire exchanged in Belfast
July 29, 2001
• Appeals for calm in Belfast
July 28, 2001
• Leaders finalise N. Irish plan
July 27, 2001

RELATED SITES:
• Good Friday Agreement
• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Northern Ireland Office
• British Prime Minister
• Irish Prime Minister

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