Sunday, September 11, 2005

More trouble in Belfast

Not too long ago, I praised the I.R.A.'s decision to lay down its arms and to pursue a political settlement in Northern Ireland. I was cautiously optimistic. "Hope abounds," I declared, but:

[W]e'll have to see just how effectively peace and politics replace war and terror. For if a widely satisfactory political solution doesn't emerge in the near future -- and there simply may not be one that appeals to the extremists and reins them in -- violence could return with a vengeance, sinking Northern Ireland back into bloodshed and hatred.The will may be there to end the violence, at least for now, but it's not at all clear that this new effort will solve the problem of Northern Ireland.

Well, it's one thing for the I.R.A. to lay down its arms, which it must if there is ever to be peace in Northern Ireland, quite another for Protestant extremists to do the same, and this weekend saw some of the worst Protestant violence in a decade:

Cranes lifted scores of burned-out cars from Belfast's riot-scarred streets Sunday after thousands of Protestant extremists went on a rampage, attacking police and British soldiers over a restricted Orange Order parade.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde, commander of Northern Ireland's mostly Protestant police, blamed the Protestant marching brotherhood for inspiring the riots, which were the worst committed in nearly a decade by the Protestant side of the community.

He said that 32 officers were wounded Saturday and early Sunday while fending off mobs of angry, often drunken Protestant men and teenagers in several parts of Belfast and in seven other predominantly Protestant towns and villages.

He said two major outlawed Protestant groups, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, helped to orchestrate what he called "completely organized" attacks. He said police seized a bomb-making factory and seven firearms in follow-up raids Sunday.

And there's more:

Chief Constable Orde said about 50 live rounds, some from automatic weapons, were fired at police positions Saturday in northwest Belfast, scene of the most protracted and dangerous clashes, but no one was wounded by bullets. About a half dozen officers suffered shrapnel wounds from homemade grenades.

About 2,000 police and British troops combated the Protestant backlash, Chief Constable Orde said, after security forces blocked Orangemen from marching past a hardline Catholic section of Belfast's Springfield Road, a major sectarian fault line in the Northern Ireland capital.

Clearly, both extremes deserve the blame for Nothern Ireland's troubles, and this latest Protestant violence shows once more just how far off peace may be.

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