Northern Ireland march prompts renewed rioting, suspicions
'A sad day for all of us,' British official says
In this story:
July 6, 1997
Web posted at: 7:39 p.m. EDT (2339 GMT)
PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Violence erupted across Northern Ireland Sunday after a Protestant group, escorted by British soldiers and police, marched through Portadown's main Catholic neighborhood.
The fierce rioting, at the height of Northern Ireland's
annual marching season, could deal a severe blow to the already badly compromised efforts to bring peace to the province.
The chance of a new cease-fire being declared by the Irish
Republican Army, which has been waging guerrilla war since 1969 to end British rule in Northern Ireland, also appeared to recede.
"There'll be no IRA cease-fire now," said Gerry Kelly, a
Belfast man who spent several years in prison for an attempted IRA bombing, watching the riots unfold.
"Is this how they are going to give us a peace process?" asked Brandon McKenna of the Catholic Residents' Association.
Choice between bad and worse
The violence was sparked in the town of Portadown, where the pro-British Orange Order was given massive police and army protection and allowed to march along Catholic Garvaghy Road despite bitter opposition from the area's Irish nationalist residents.
British authorities tried and failed to get the two sides to compromise, so they turned the small stretch of road into a fortress and said they had to decide between bad and worse.
"This is a sad day for all of us," said Mo Mowlam, the British Cabinet minister responsible for Northern Ireland, who accused both sides of intransigence.
The decision to permit the highly contentious Orange parade to proceed staved off the prospect of widespread Protestant rioting, as happened last year when police initially blocked the Portadown march.
Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, commander of the 12,000-strong police force, said blocking the Protestant march would have meant Garvaghy Road's Catholics were "surrounded for days on end." And he predicted that Protestant extremists would have tried to kill Catholics at random.
Flanagan described the decision as "a simple, stark choice in terms of balancing two evils, each evil bound to bring about serious violence."
Bowler hats and sashes
Backed by police, about 1,200 Orange faithful in traditional bowler hats and sashes Sunday marched along Garvaghy Road accompanied by an accordion band which stayed silent as police directed in a gesture of respect. They filed past six abreast for 10 minutes as residents screamed abuse, banged pots and honked car horns from behind a half-mile-long (kilometer-long) wall of armored cars.
The real trouble started after the brief march ended and security forces began to leave. Catholic residents took their anger out on them, hurling stones, rocks, bottles and a couple of petrol bombs. Within minutes of the soldiers' departure in Portadown, militants had hijacked two cars, tipped them over and burned them in the middle of the road.
Troops got out their riot shields and fired back rubber bullets. Police dragged about 200 sit-down protesters off the road and established an armored stranglehold on the roadside housing development. Police reported 27 people injured in the Garvaghy Road clashes, including 11 of their own officers.
The rioting quickly spread, and the following incidents of protest were reported Sunday:
- In Belfast, a bomb was thrown at a police station early Monday, followed by several bursts of automatic gunfire. Police returned fire. No injuries were reported. Earlier, police reported five shots were fired at them in the city's Catholic Ormeau Road area. No casualties were reported.
- In Lurgan, near Portadown, armed men hijacked a train and
set fire to all six passenger cars before fleeing. Police said several cars were hijacked and set ablaze in Catholic West Belfast.
- In Coalisland, 15 miles (25 km) northwest of Belfast, a policewoman was wounded in the face in Coalisland when a man wielding a shotgun ran out of a nearby pub and shot at her. A South Tyrone Hospital spokesman said her wounds weren't life-threatening.
- In Portadown itself, masked youths pummeled soldiers with stones as they slowly withdrew from Garvaghy Road following the annual march of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland's main pro-British Protestant fraternal group. The military responded with plastic bullets, as they did before dawn when they moved into Garvaghy Road in overwhelming numbers.
Local media reported further unrest in the towns of Londonderry, Newry and Armagh.
'Seething with anger'
More than 3,000 Catholics rallied in Londonderry, Northern
Ireland's second-largest city, and planned to march on police
headquarters. Leading the rally was Martin McGuinness, the city's former IRA commander and today chief negotiator for the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party.
"I am disgusted and the nationalist community is seething
with anger at the imposition of virtual martial law and the
brutal fashion in which it was enforced by the RUC (police) and British Army against the innocent people of the Garvaghy Road," McGuinness said.
The Orange Order, founded near Portadown in 1795, stages more
than 2,000 marches each summer to celebrate the Protestant
community's majority position. Catholic militants since 1995 have tried to block Orange marches that pass near or through their areas.
And police were restraining Catholics from blocking another
Orange march Sunday night in Newtownbutler, a predominantly
Catholic border town in Northern Ireland's extreme southwest. There 12 armored cars and a row of riot police barred Catholics from Main Street as several hundred Orangemen paraded.
More clashes over disputed Orange marches are expected Monday in the Catholic village of Bellaghy and next weekend in Belfast and Londonderry.
Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Reuters contributed to this report.
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