Protestants barred from parading through Catholic area

Monday, July 8, 2002

PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland -- Protestant hard-liners battled riot police Sunday after being barred from parading through the main Catholic section of Portadown, an annual confrontation that often triggers sectarian violence across Northern Ireland.

The rioters, cheered on by several hundred members and supporters of the Orange Order brotherhood, injured 24 officers, four seriously, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said.

Police charged into the mob after rioters battered down most of a 7-foot-high steel barrier across the roadway. They arrested three men and fired three plastic bullets, seriously injuring a rioter's arm. Several other Protestants suffered bruises and small cuts.

The violence abated once British army engineers, protected by the riot police, erected a taller steel barrier. Police later fired water cannons at young men trying to cut through barbed-wire fences in surrounding pastures.

The violence dashed police hopes that this year's standoff with Orangemen could end peacefully, as it did last year. It also set the tone for a potentially dangerous week involving hundreds of divisive parades by the Orange Order, the province's major Protestant fraternal group.

Police and politicians predicted that the marches, combined with the militant Catholic opposition they inspire, would exacerbate street tensions in Belfast, where rioting frequently has erupted in the most polarized neighborhoods in recent months.

Local Orange Order leaders, wearing bowler hats and orange vestments, attended their traditional church service at a rural Anglican church outside Portadown.

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