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Quiet In Belfast

Italy's Daniele Bennati checks on Germany's Markus Fothen, left, Switzerland's Martin Elmiger, right, and Germany's Jens Voigt as they sprint towards the finish line of the 17th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Pau and Castelsarrasin, Thursday, July 26, 2007. Bennati won the stage of the doping-marred event.
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Roman Catholic children had a trouble-free walk to a flashpoint Northern Ireland school on Monday as Protestants heeded calls for restraint in a second week of street protests, witnesses said.

U.S. diplomat Richard Haass will discuss sectarian tensions around the Belfast school and deadlock over guerrilla disarmament at talks in London on Monday with Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid following U.S. condemnation of last week's violent protests.

Last week a bomb hurled by a Protestant extremist seriously hurt two police officers guarding Catholic children on their way to the Ardoyne Road school and protestors hurled abuse as the pupils and their parents filed past.

On Monday, Protestants stood in silence as more than 100 children, in uniforms of bright red jumpers and dark skirts walked hand in hand with parents to the Holy Cross Girls Primary School, which is in a Protestant enclave in the north of the capital.

As the parents went home without the children, the 100 or so Protestants kept up a five-minute barrage of whistle blowing, and held up placards defending their protest action.


Learn more about the history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Â"No denial of the right to education - there is an alternative route,Â" read one of the placards.

Protestant and Catholic church leaders had appealed against any repeat of the tension that has catapulted the children into the front line of the sectarianism plaguing community relations and the province's politics for generations.

Reid, who has his hands full in trying to bolster the wavering 1998 Good Friday peace accord, has floated peace feelers in the dispute to community representatives and will meet Protestant residents for talks on Tuesday, officials said.

Protestant residents of streets near the school say they have come under frequent attack from Catholics in a neighbouring zone and say their grievances must be tackled before they will let the pupils walk freely past their homes.

They say the parents should take the children along another route, away from the Protestant streets.

North Belfast is a mosaic of rival enclaves where sectarian friction frequently spills over into violence.

Nelson McCausland, a Protestant municipal councillor, said the protest was silent as the children passed, Â"to indicate that the issue is not the children.Â" The residents' complaints were with the adults of the Catholic zone, he told Reuters

Aidan Troy, a Catholic priest who is chairman of the school's management committee, hoped Reid's intervention would soon bear fruit in helping community representatives to have direct talks to thrash out their difficulties.

The row has soured a political climate that was already fraught over a web of intricate issues that threaten the future of the landmark Good Friday agreemen.

Haass is director of State Department policy planning and the Bush administration's point man on Northern Ireland.

Â"The United States is trying to see how it can be helpful. It's an important time in terms of developments,Â" one diplomat said on Sunday, adding that President George W. Bush was not launching his own mediation drive in the British-ruled province.

Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army, is at loggerheads with Britain and Protestant parties over a range of issues including demands for IRA disarmament, police reforms and withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.

If rival parties fail to resolve the difficulties by September 23, Britain will face a choice of suspending the province's home-rule government or calling fresh elections.

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