12 July 2004

BELFAST - Armed Protestant groups in Northern Ireland put on a ritual
show of force here on Sunday on the eve of the annual Orange Order
parades, amid vows to "take on" their Catholic enemies who seek a
united Ireland.

Traditional volleys of shots in the air filled the night sky in the
Protestant stronghold of Westland, in north Belfast.

"We are more prepared than ever before to take on the enemies of
Ulster whoever they may be," a masked spokesman of the clandestine
paramilitary UDA-UFF (Ulster Defence Association-Ulster Freedom
Fighters) warned.

Thick black smoke billowed from Protestant areas of Belfast where
bonfires and car tyres were set alight and left to burn overnight.

The Protestant Orange Order organises nearly 2,000 summer marches

across Northern Ireland to commemorate the victory of Protestant King
William of Orange over the James II's Catholics in Ireland in 1690.

Roman Catholics, who mostly favour the reunification of Northern
Ireland with the Irish Republic, say the marches are provocative and

Protestants mostly want the province to remain part of the United

The traditional marching season is taking place amidst a background
of political tension in the British-ruled province.

Britain and Ireland last month set a deadline of September for
resolving a political deadlock that has put the Northern Ireland
peace process in limbo for more than year and a half.

Hopes of bringing an end to three decades of strife in Northern
Ireland rose with the Good Friday peace accords of 1998 that
envisioned power-sharing between pro-British Protestant unionists and
Catholic Irish nationalists.

But the bold project was derailed in October 2002 when Northern
Ireland's assembly and executive were suspended, and direct rule from
London reimposed, amid claims of espionage by the Irish Republican
Army (IRA).

The IRA is the main Catholic paramilitary group in Northern Irland
and has yet to formally renounce its armed struggle against Britsh

The crisis intensified when elections in November 2003 saw the
Protestant hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) -- which refuses
to do business with the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein -- winning
the most seats in the Northern Ireland assembly.

Some 60,000 members of the Orange Order and their supporters were
expected to march throughout Northern Ireland on Monday to mark the
314th anniversary of King William's victory in the Battle of the

As the authorities have banned some of the marches from passing near
to Catholic neighbourhoods, the Orangemen plan to show their anger by
blocking Belfast's main roads on Monday.

Britain's minister for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy and police chiefs
have called for calm.

"I'm calling for a peaceful day of marching," deputy police chief
Duncan McCausland said.

"Communities have a right to parade and to protest but with these
rights come responsibilities."

Three police officers were injured on Sunday in disturbances in
Londonderry in northwest Northern Ireland, police said.

One officer suffered facial injuries while the others suffered lesser
injuries to the neck, arm and wrist.

The trouble broke out when police tried to arrest a man for
disorderly behaviour. Officers used CS spray and made a number of

Meanwhile in Randalstown, in the northeast, three men were arrested
during disturbances at the site of a loyalist bonfire where over 150
people pelted police with bottles and stones.

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