Tue, Jul 08, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Orangemen's parade passes off peacefully

AFP , PORTADOWN, NORTHERN IRELAND

Portadown Orangemen march after a church service on Sunday in Druncree, Northern Ireland. For the sixth-year running, the Orange Order has been blocked from parading through the staunchly Catholic Garvaghy Road following a service at Drumcree Parish Church on the edge of Portadown.

PHOTO: AP

A parade by Protestant Orangemen that has been a flashpoint for Northern Ireland's sectarian feud in recent years passed off peacefully on Sunday, even though marchers were blocked from their traditional route for the sixth year in a row.

To the sound of accordions, flutes and fanfare, about 2,000 members of the Orange Order wearing bowler hats and orange sashes filed through the town of Portadown, southwest of Belfast.

Almost 2,000 troops and police were in place as part of the security operation for the event, which has sparked clashes in recent years between the loyalist Orangemen and Catholic nationalists.

Soldiers again erected a steel barrier to prevent the Orangemen from filing along from Drumcree Church down the mainly Catholic Garvaghy Road, while fences of razor wire were strung up across nearby fields.

But this year the Orangemen organizing the march hoisted a ribbon in front of the barrier and asked members not to pass any further.

Overcast, rainy weather also helped to cool marchers' tempers.

Nigel Lawson, a local Orange Order leader, handed a letter of protest to police at the barrier, urging them to "remove this hideous barrier and your men."

But the marchers did not try to force their way through as they did last year, when youths threw stones at police who then fired plastic bullets into the crowd, resulting in injuries on both sides.

"The key difference this year I believe is that people took responsibility for the people that they have here today," said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White, in charge of the policing operation.

The Protestant Orange Order organizes nearly 2,000 summer marches across Northern Ireland to commemorate the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholics of James II in 1690 in Ireland.

Some marches, such as that in Drumcree, also remember other events such as the 1916 Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest of World War I in which many soldiers from Ireland died.

Catholics, who mostly favor the reunification of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic to the south, say the marches by the loyalist Protestants are needlessly provocative and anachronistic.

But the violence linked to the march has ebbed since a nadir in 1999, when three Catholic children were burned to death in an arson attack on their home in Ballymoney, a small town on the northeast coast, during riots across Northern Ireland sparked by conflict over the Drumcree parade.

This year's march comes as the governments of Britain and Ireland struggle to breath life back into the province's peace process, after London postponed elections for a new Northern Ireland Assembly until late this year.

The power-sharing assembly and executive, set up under the Good Friday accords, were suspended last October amid allegations of spying by the IRA.

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