PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland — Defiant but demoralized, leaders of Northern Ireland's major Protestant brotherhood urged their followers to refrain from violence after British security forces on Sunday blocked their most controversial parade for the fourth year in a row.
"I appeal for peace and quiet in the coming days," the Orange Order leader in Portadown, Harold Gracey, told about 2,000 Protestants who marched to a high steel barricade that prevented them from parading through the town's nearby Catholic district, Garvaghy Road.
Most Orangemen went home after hearing Gracey's rambling speech, leaving a few hundred sullen-faced men staring at the barbed-wire fences and watery ditches separating them from units of soldiers and riot police.
Police and politicians predicted that militant Protestants would mount few attacks in the buildup to other Orange Order parades this week, many of which have been barred from Catholic turf.
The confrontational marches coincide with a crisis threatening Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord and particularly the Catholic-Protestant government it produced. Protestant leaders have warned that they will scuttle the coalition within weeks unless the Irish Republican Army starts to disarm, as promised last year.
Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked party Sinn Fein, said Sunday there was "no possibility" the IRA will hand over weapons unless Protestant parties and Britain move on police reform and troop reductions.
"The IRA are not sheep," Adams told a rally in West Belfast.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, were expected to lead a secretive round of negotiations today among Northern Irish parties at an isolated English mansion. Blair and Ahern, who want a new deal by Tuesday night, welcomed the Orange Order's appeals against violence.
But many rank-and-file Orangemen lamented that their hard-line organization--once a dominant social force in this Protestant-majority province--appeared rudderless.
"We're crying out for firm leadership. But our leaders have no strategy," said Joe Anderson, an Orangeman and a former British soldier.