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Clashes Break Out in Northern Ireland Between the Roman Catholics and the Police

Aired July 12, 2001 - 15:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to give you the latest breaking news now from Northern Ireland. Just to set up a little bit here, this is the height of what the call the marching season in Northern Ireland, the time when there are typically very great tensions between Protestant marchers, members of Orange Order, facing off against Catholic counter protesters.

The things seemed to have been going well. In fact, you are seeing here some of the pictures from earlier in the day of the Orange Order parade under way. Things have been going relatively well, but just in the past few minutes we've been getting reports from Belfast that things have gone quite badly indeed.

Fionnuala Sweeney joining us now on the telephone line from Belfast. Fionnuala, tell us what is going on now?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, basically, yes, the majority of the parades in Northern Ireland did go off peacefully, but there's a serious clash taking place between Roman Catholics and the police and the British army (UNINTELLIGIBLE) North Belfast. There are hundreds of rioters who, earlier we were told by Jerry Kelly (ph) of Sinn Fein, who have tried to protests an Orange Order march going down the nearby Gremlin (ph) Road, and it escalated into a serious riot.

The situation is at the moment that there are literally dozens of RUC armored vehicles on Gremlin (ph) Road. The police in full riot gear have had corralled the rioters into a road off the Ardoyne (ph) Road, and basically there is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The RUC say that they have fired plastic rounds into the crowd. We know there are a number of injuries on the Roman Catholic side, but we have yet -- we are unable to go anywhere near those to be able to establish the kind of injuries and the number of injuries.

The RUC say that five police officers have been injured, one seriously. And in last few minutes since we arrived here, we have seen another police officer being carried away -- Joie.

CHEN: Fionnuala, bear in mind that you're talking to the U.S. domestic audience. Can you talk a little bit about the history of the tensions over the Orange Order marches and why this has always been such a height of difficulties during the year? SWEENEY: Yes, the Orange Order was formed in the late 18th century. It basically commemorates the battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690, which is a very famous victory of Protestants over Roman Catholics, the Protestants fighting for King William of Orange, as he was known -- hence the name of Orange -- and since then, every year the Protestants have demonstrated with parades throughout Northern Ireland.

And of course as the troubles in Northern Ireland escalated, then you had the civil rights marches in the '60s. These marches became more provocative from the Roman Catholic point of view, and as the Good Friday agreement got under way, even more important for the Protestants to hold on to, they increasingly feel that their culture and heritage is being eroded under the Good Friday agreements.

Now, as I speak, you can probably hear that the police are retreating away from the scene for a moment. This is kind of cat-and- mouse tactic, they make a charge and then they are coming under attack with missiles, with many, many petrol bombs, with bricks, anything really that comes to the rioters' hands. So, occasionally, they move back, and they are not very far from where we are now, and they regroup and then they will charge again.

But back, anyway, to your question about the history of this. This had a huge significance for Protestants and Catholics who see this is really -- these marches as being provocative and one of triumphalism and basic sectarianism -- Joie.

CHEN: Fionnuala, I have to tell you it sounds like you are very close to whatever is going on. This clash is coming very close to your position now?

SWEENEY: Yes, we are very close to them. They really have corralled these people into a side street and they are maybe 15 feet away from where I am now, standing around the corner.

And the police -- I mean, what strikes me is that the police seem to make what they would regard as strikes against the rioters in terms of gaining ground, and they might do that over maybe 100 yards or so, and then suddenly they come under a huge volume of attacks of missiles and these bricks and petrol bombs. And they also have Roman Catholic residents out on the street cheering and screaming, and also I think they are taking part on this from the side, and so really this is a riot that has been under way for some time. I am beginning to see people retreating up the road now at great pace, and clearly this is something that is going to continue for some time.

It should be said that even though the parades generally went off very peacefully, it had been understood that there could well be clashes as the night went on -- Joie.

CHEN: We will ask Fionnuala Sweeney to take cover. Our correspondent Fionnuala Sweeney is in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, where these latest clashes have broken. Now, again, the protesters, counter-demonstrators against the Protestant Orange Order, Catholic counter-demonstrators, clashing in the streets and some of the protesters turning against the local police authorities there. There have been clashes and there have been some injuries.

Again, CNN is continuing to watch this developing international story, bringing you the latest as it comes to us here.

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