Parades spark violence in N. Ireland

Catholic demonstrators decry Protestant marches


OMAGH, Northern Ireland -- Police officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary clashed yesterday in cities across Northern Ireland with Roman Catholics protesting Protestant parades through Catholic neighborhoods.

At least five people were arrested and scores were injured, most of them not seriously, as protesters confronted police officers who carried heavy shields and truncheons, which they used to clear the demonstrators away from the parades.

The demonstrators shouted abuse at the Protestant marchers, who were celebrating the 310th anniversary of the defeat of James II, a Catholic, in Londonderry.

The demonstrations over the parades occurred in Belfast, Lurgan and Londonderry. They came as the people of Omagh, in the center of the predominantly Protestant British province, prepared to commemorate the first anniversary of a bombing by a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army that killed 29 people.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, supported the demonstrations and accused the police of brutality, which the police denied. In the past, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has acknowledged that Catholic protests over the Protestant parades are a part of the republican strategy to advance Sinn Fein's position in the northern peace effort.

The negotiations have been stalled for more than a year in a dispute over the disarmament of the IRA and over Cabinet posts for Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The assembly was created under the 1998 peace agreement with a view to giving the province's minority Catholics more power.

Many officials, including mainstream Catholic politicians, said Sinn Fein was using the protests to satisfy hard-line members of the IRA who are restless with Adams' policy of trying to negotiate with the Protestant unionist majority without violence.

Yesterday's demonstrations, the officials said, also had the effect of counterbalancing the plan for a memorial service in Omagh today for the victims of last year's bombing. The bomb was planted by an IRA splinter group calling itself the Real IRA.

The main IRA has observed a cease-fire for two years but has refused to disarm. A new session of the assembly will take up this problem in Belfast next month.

In Belfast yesterday morning, police said, 19 officers and several civilians were injured in clashes on the Lower Ormeau Road as about 20 members of the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry marched through the area. There were no arrests.

Television last night showed police officers dragging sitting protesters off the Lower Ormeau Road. They responded by kicking. The police clubbed the protesters' legs.

The marchers then boarded a bus for Londonderry, where the main ceremonies were held in honor of a Protestant victory over Catholic forces in 1689.

In Lurgan, 20 miles west of Belfast, police said that protesters in a Catholic area threw gasoline bombs and rocks at police officers and that several masked men attacked police lines with cudgels.

In Londonderry, in the west of the province, a Protestant parade passed without significant violence at noontime along the old wall of the city, near the Catholic Bogside area. In the Catholic neighborhood of Creggan, two cars, apparently owned by Protestants, were hijacked and burned.

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