Belfast parade goes ahead after Catholic protest
August 14, 1999
From staff and wire reports
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN)-- A Protestant march moved peacefully through Belfast on Saturday despite a protest by Catholic demonstrators before the march began.
Meanwhile, In Londonderry, a second bigger march got underway in Londonderry with one incident of violence reported when masked men siezed a truck and set it on fire.
Several people were injured when police forcibly removed the demonstrators from the street where the Protestant Apprentice Boys held their march. The Catholics held their sit-in in the middle of the street where the march was to take place.
Police removed the demonstrators because the parade route had been approved by the Parade Commission, according to a spokesman for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The demonstrations came just hours before Protestants were to hold a bigger parade through a Catholic neighborhood in Londonderry. That march will mark a 300-year-old Protestant military victory over Irish Catholics.
The Catholic counterprotests are to denounce what they consider the Protestants' triumphalist stance.
Martin McGuinness, a spokesman for the Catholic Republican political party Sinn Fein, accused police of using heavy-handed tactics against the protesters in Belfast and warned that more violence was possible in Londonderry.
"I think it's going to be very, very difficult to maintain any semblance of peace in the city today," McGuinness said.
McGuinness noted that 10,000 Protestants are to take part in the march.
The weekend marches come ahead of Sunday's first anniversary of the bombings in the town of Omagh that killed 29 people and wounded hundreds more.
A splinter group known as The Real IRA claimed responsibility for that attack.
The weekend also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the British decision to send troops into Northern Ireland.
On August 14, 1969, more than 300 soldiers from Britain's Prince of Wales regiment were ordered into a Londonderry neighborhood after three nights of clashes between police and Catholic residents.
The number of British troops stationed in Northern Ireland peaked at 30,000 in the early 1970s, and it now stands at 15,000.
The marches and countermarches also come amid growing tensions because of the stalemate in implementation of the Northern Irish peace plan known as the Good Friday Agreement.
Protestant Unionist politicians, who want Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain, have refused to share power with Republicans in Sinn Fein until the party's military ally, the Irish Republican Army, disarms.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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