Extra security due for Belfast parade

Extra police and soldiers are expected to be drafted into north Belfast tomorrow in preparation for a controversial loyalist parade through a nationalist area.

Extra police and soldiers are expected to be drafted into north Belfast tomorrow in preparation for a controversial loyalist parade through a nationalist area.

Ardoyne residents had objected strongly to an Apprentice Boys march, which takes place at a time when violence in the area has been escalating.

However, the Parades Commission turned down an appeal from Sinn Fein to have the march diverted away from the contentious section of the route.

Tension is high in the district following the eruption of fresh violence last night and early this morning when security force patrols came under attack in several separate incidents before rival groups of nationalists and loyalists clashed.

A police Land Rover was stoned by nationalist youths at Ardoyne shops before a police car was attacked by stone throwers in the nearby Brompton Park area.

Shortly afterwards, a number of Catholic homes were damaged in Alliance Avenue when stones, bottles and other missiles were thrown across the peaceline from the loyalist Glenbryn area.

A number of fireworks were thrown at a military patrol on the Ardoyne Road at around 10.30pm and a short time later rival crowds of nationalists and loyalists gathered in the area and began to pelt each other with stones and other missiles.

The loyalist Ulster Defence Association had earlier been accused of attempting to provoke sectarian violence in the area ahead of the parade.

Sinn Fein councillor Eoin O’Broin said: "Regrettably there has been a dramatic increase in attacks on the nationalist people in Ardoyne in the last number of days and there is a genuine fear that the UDA is attempting to wind up this situation in order to provoke a confrontation on Saturday."

Security sources have accused the loyalist group of firing shots from the Glenbryn area into nearby nationalist Alliance Avenue earlier in the week.

Catholic homes also came under petrol and pipe bomb attack on several occasions recently.

Extra police are already patrolling the area in an effort to stem the tide of rising violence but it is expected many more will be drafted into the area tomorrow.

Vicious rioting has broken out in the past after loyalist marchers made their way through the area.

Tension has increased in the area in the run-up to the march despite the revelations that republicans and loyalists have entered high level talks in a bid to end the recent violence.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly held a meeting with the Rev Mervyn Gibson, chairman of the loyalist commission, a group that includes paramilitary representatives.

Sources close to Mr Kelly confirmed the meeting took place in an effort to persuade the UDA to stop attacking Catholic homes.

A republican source described it as a positive move.

"The meeting lasted for about an hour and a half and they spoke about loyalist violence. It was very frank and the hope is they will meet again.

"It is a sign that progress is being made."

Mr Gibson, a Presbyterian minister in east Belfast, had no comment to make about the meeting, which is believed to have taken place earlier this week.

The Commission, which was set up last year to ease tensions among feuding loyalists, is made up of politicians, church leaders and paramilitary representatives.

A number of leading politicians have met the Loyalist Commission including the Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid and First Minister David Trimble.

The meeting with Mr Kelly was described as positive by North Belfast Assembly member Billy Hutchinson, of the Progressive Unionist Party which has links to the Ulster Volunteer Force.

"Any moves to take the guns off the streets in north Belfast and prevent violence from any quarter has to be welcomed," he added.

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