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Catholics Lash Out at Parade in Belfast

Molotov cocktails, bottles and bricks are hurled at Protestant marchers and police. About 30 are hurt, including 18 officers.

June 19, 2005|From Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Roman Catholic protesters assaulted police and Protestant marchers in a polarized part of Belfast, and nearly 30 people were injured, police in Northern Ireland said Saturday.

The violence flared Friday night as a parade by the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternity, passed a hostile crowd on the edge of the Ardoyne district, a traditionally Catholic enclave. Hundreds of police in riot gear tried to keep the two sides apart, but Catholic men and youths spent more than an hour hurling bottles, bricks and at least 10 Molotov cocktails at the police lines.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said 18 officers were injured, none seriously. The 11 injured civilians included a 14-year-old girl with a broken arm.

The rioting fizzled out once police deployed water cannons to douse the Catholic crowd.

"We were deployed in sufficient force to prevent a bad situation from getting worse, but as it was, our officers came under sustained attack," said Superintendent Gary White, who commanded the police operation.

Police said they arrested three people for rioting and planned more arrests once people photographed by surveillance cameras could be formally identified.

Several hours later, in apparent retaliation, Protestant militants attacked five homes in nearby Ligoniel, a Catholic district. The houses were struck about 2:30 a.m. Saturday with paint-filled balloons. And three had broken windows or scorch damage from ignited gasoline-filled bottles.

Ardoyne is one of the most hard-line nationalist districts of north Belfast. Residents there generally loathe the Orange Order, an organization that mounts more than 2,000 parades annually, many in July, to commemorate the victory of Prince William of Orange in 1690 over King James II, a Catholic.

Several Orange Order parades scheduled for next month are expected to face organized opposition. The confrontations have frequently caused widespread street violence, particularly in the late 1990s.

Catholics led by Sinn Fein, which is considered the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, have tried since 1995 to block Orange Order parades near or through their neighborhoods. In 1998, seeking to defuse the annual flare-ups of violence, Britain empowered a civilian Parades Commission to impose restrictions on Protestant parades and Catholic counterdemonstrations.

Before Friday's clash, the commission ordered the Orangemen's bands of fife and drum to play no tunes -- some of which have anti-Catholic themes -- as they passed Ardoyne and ordered the marchers' supporters to use the far sidewalk. The commission ordered the Catholics to protest peacefully.

The Protestants observed the restrictions, but Catholics on the far side of police lines threw objects, including golf balls, at both the marchers and their supporters as they got within range.

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