Northern Irish March Peaceful

Drumcree Northern Ireland
AP
Heavy British security and a massive steel barrier blocked about 2,000 Northern Ireland Protestants from entering a flash-point Catholic area in Drumcree on Sunday, but marchers heeded an appeal for calm.

Portadown members of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland's once-dominant Protestant brotherhood, had marched from the center of town through predominantly Protestant streets on their way to a rural Anglican church on Drumcree hill.

"Please, please keep this peaceful," said Harold Gracie, leader of the Portadown Orange Order, as hundreds of marchers gathered for speeches near a 20-foot high steel and razor-wire barrier blocking a bridge into the Catholic enclave.

Nigel Dawson, secretary of the Portadown Orangemen, asked a senior police officer standing at the barricade to "remove this obscene obstruction."

When the police officer refused, he said: "We will continue to maintain our stand here until our civil and religious liberties have been restored and we may walk the Garvaghy Road."

It was the fourth consecutive year the march had been banned from the Catholic area after serious outbreaks of sectarian violence in previous years. The ban came amid growing unease about the future of the landmark 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

After listening to speeches, most of the marchers dispersed.

"I am delighted that things went the way they did — peaceful, lawful and with dignity," Stephen White, Assistant Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, told Reuters.

Residents of the town were really not at all happy or pleased that this standoff has again occurred on their doorsteps, reports CBS News' Trevor Birney.

"To the left of me stand hundreds of Orangemen dressed in sashes and bowler hats, very somber-looking men," said Birney, and on his right, "huge amounts of barbed wire with soldiers dug in."

Leaders of the Orange Order denounced the ban by Northern Ireland's Parades Commission stopping them from continuing their traditional march past Catholic homes, back to nearby Portadown, 25 miles southwest of Belfast.

But speeches that began immediately afterwards appealed for the Orange Order to show dignity, and to refrain from violence in order to give Protestants as big a voice as possible in talks in the English Midlands next week to try to shore up the faltering Good Friday peace accord.

"We can, we must and we will continue to fight for restoration of our fundamental human rights," Robert Saulters, Grand Master of the Orange Order for Ireland, told the crowd.

Saulters accused the Parades Commission and a Catholic residents group of "ostensibly opposing our right to walk a few hundred yards down a public highway, while all the time striving to do more or no less than to obliterate our culture and tradition."

The parade is the most controversial of the "marching season" flaunting past Protestant victories over Catholics.

Sectarian bitterness rises as the Order's summer marches approach thir climax with province-wide parades on July 12, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Loyalist extremists killed a 19-year-old last Wednesday and Britain rushed troops to the province last month after serious factional rioting. But since the murder, the province has been generally quiet and church leaders and politicians have pleaded for a peaceful day at Drumcree.

Hundreds of British troops and police were involved in the operation to seal the parade route.

Some 2,000 members of the Orange Order were on parade, their leaders wearing the orange sashes and black hats while bands played hymns. Some also carried British flags and emblems.

An accordion band leading the parade stopped playing as the column passed the Catholic St John the Baptist church to the martial beat of its drums.

There was an uneasy calm, with small groups of Catholics standing in the church grounds and on a road behind barbed wire and concrete barriers that soldiers put up on Saturday.

Protestants and Catholics eyed each other in sullen silence over a distance of 50 yards.

But a small knot of loyalist hangers-on carrying a banner and trailing behind the marchers shouted insults and Catholic youths barked back jibes.

"We haven't gone away, we're still here," jeered a middle-aged blonde woman in the loyalist group.

"Four-nil," roared back a Catholic youth, referring to the four years of the parade ban.

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