Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Planned Loyalist march in Dublin triggers off clashes

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DUBLIN

A planned parade by Northern Irish Protestant groups through the capital of the Irish Republic led to violent clashes between protesters and the police on Saturday, forcing cancellation of the march and briefly turning a sunny afternoon into a melee, with bricks flying over the heads of weekend shoppers, and five people injured.

About 300 Protestants, including several marching bands in uniform, were stopped by the police before they could even begin their planned march along O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, to the Irish Parliament building to protest what they say is the Irish government's tolerance of violence by groups like the IRA.

Protestants in the British province of Northern Ireland want the province to remain part of the UK, and have traditionally viewed their neighbors in the Irish Republic, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, with suspicion. The "Love Ulster" parade was viewed as a gauge of tolerance levels here.

Representatives from Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, had encouraged its supporters to ignore the march, and the Irish public was expected to do the same. But crowds of Dubliners lined the parade route, shouting vulgar catcalls and waving homemade banners encouraging the Northern Irish demonstrators to go home.

A group of Dubliners who opposed the march confronted the police and, using construction equipment that had been left unattended on the street as weapons, began smashing windows of shops. One policeman was struck by a homemade gasoline bomb. At least three police officers and two protesters were injured.

Tensions between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are at their lowest point in nearly a decade.

In recent weeks, however, the Reverend Ian Paisley, the veteran Protestant leader of Ulster's Democratic Union, Northern Ireland's largest political party, has stirred a diplomatic dispute by accusing Mary McAleese, the Belfast-born Catholic president of the Irish Republic, of hating the province.

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