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British Allow Protestants to Hold Parade

Northern Ireland: Official OKs march for fear of further violence. But police battle Catholic opponents of gathering.


LONDON — Authorities in Northern Ireland allowed about 1,300 Protestants to march through a mostly Catholic neighborhood in the city of Portadown on Thursday, ending a five-day standoff but sparking new violence.

The pro-British Orangemen, many dressed in traditional suits, bowler hats and orange collars, paraded through the area in an annual commemoration of a 17th century battle in which William of Orange's Protestant forces defeated those of the Catholic King James II.

During and after the parade in the city about 25 miles southwest of the capital of Belfast, onlookers--most of them Catholics opposed to British rule--threw rocks and bottles, set fire to cars and jeered at the marchers. Police fired plastic bullets into the crowd of about 400 people and dragged away some protesters.

Before the march, Catholics fought with police who were clearing the road to allow the Orangemen to proceed; police clubbed protesters repeatedly, bloodying some.

In Belfast, meanwhile, three police officers were shot and wounded in Catholic neighborhoods early today, the first shootings since the latest troubles began.

The province has been racked with violence since Sunday as Protestants rioted in Portadown, insisting they be allowed to parade. They burned cars and blockaded intersections. The protesters also torched some Catholic schools and a church.

Several Catholic families moved out of their homes in Protestant neighborhoods during the unrest, the worst in Northern Ireland in more than two years. As many as 110 police officers and civilians reportedly have been wounded, and more than 300 vehicles and 30 businesses burned.

On Saturday, Chief Constable Hugh Annesley had instructed the Orangemen not to proceed through Garvaghy Road in the Catholic section of Portadown. Annesley reversed his decision Thursday morning after the British loyalists widened the dispute and increased tension in the province.

"We faced potential risks to life," Annesley said. ". . . What I did was the best for everyone in this province."

Last year, a similar situation arose but was resolved when the Orange Order, Northern Ireland's dominant Protestant fraternal group, agreed to march without a band playing and without displaying signs of "triumphalism."

This year, Catholic residents claimed that as part of last year's agreement the marchers would avoid their area. Unionists denied this.

More marches are scheduled today.

The British government said Thursday that it supported the controversial decision to permit the march. Patrick Mayhew, Britain's secretary for Northern Ireland, told Parliament here that Annesley, in seeking a balance between the sectarian sides, has an "enormously difficult role, a very lonely one."

But John Hume, a Catholic republican member of Parliament, told the House of Commons that the chief constable's action was a "disgraceful decision to surrender."

Angry Catholics in Portadown agreed. One woman told television reporters, "We have been peaceful. They haven't. Look what we got for being peaceful."

The unionists, who support continued rule by Britain, also criticized Annesley. He had made the "wrong decision" to stop the march in the first place, said John Taylor, a unionist member of Parliament. Protestants and Catholics alike "had suffered for it," Taylor said.

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