Belfast neighborhood braces for violence

Friday, July 12, 2002

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - The upper floor of Angela Clarke's neat brick townhouse looks out over two towering structures, both testament to noble ambition that went wrong.

Just to the north looms the huge yellow crane of Harland and Wolff, the historic Belfast shipyard best known for a mighty steamship it launched in 1911, the Titanic. And right across the street rises the 20-foot-high barrier of brick, steel and wire that was erected to ensure peace between Clarke's Roman Catholic housing project and her Protestant neighbors a block away.

"They call it the "peace wall,' " Clarke snorts. "But ... this is peace? People are getting shot around here! Last couple of months, there's petrol bombs, pipe bombs, paint bombs flying over that thing. The other night, they threw a couple of six-inch bolts, smashed my wee daughter's window."

There hasn't been much peace on the other side of the wall, either. Five Protestants have been shot since June, although none fatally, and the Protestant neighborhood seems to have just as many homes with boarded-up windows and bullet holes in the walls.

No explanation

Police say heavily armed sectarian paramilitaries are responsible for most of these shootings and bomb throwings. This type of violence has largely died out elsewhere in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, but for reasons no one can quite explain it has continued week after week in this corner of East Belfast.

Late Thursday night, Clarke and others in the neighborhood of Short Strand were particularly watchful, as Protestants across the British province of Northern Ireland gathered for the traditional July 11 street parties and bonfires. Today, tens of thousands will take part in noisy parades marking the July 12 anniversary of the 1690 battle in which a Protestant king defeated a Catholic army.

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