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Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Security tight for Drumcree parade
Portadown Orange Order protest at Drumcree bridge
Portadown Orange Order protest at Drumcree bridge
More than 2,000 police officers and soldiers are in place for the annual Orange Order parade at Drumcree in Northern Ireland.

Crowds of loyalists are gathering in Portadown, County Armagh, where the bitterly disputed parade has been banned from marching along the mainly Catholic Garvaghy Road for a fifth year.

Fury at the block on Orangemen returning from a church service at Drumcree along that route has led to fierce clashes in the past.

Members of Portadown district lodge are currently attending a service at Drumcree Church of Ireland.

It would be a massive boost for the whole of Northern Ireland if this passes off peacefully

ACC Stephen White
But last year's march passed off relatively peacefully and there are hopes that any major trouble can be avoided this year.

"I'm certainly content - with the information and the goodwill that exists - that there will be less likelihood of violence here than there has been in the past," said the man in charge of security, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White.

Army engineers have set up a barrier - much less imposing than in previous years - across the bridge below Drumcree Church.

Razor wire has also been strung across the fields beside the bridge to prevent any efforts to outflank the barrier.

Click here for parade route

A bid by Orangemen to have the Parades Commission ruling overturned failed on Thursday night.

They argue that following the march route - from Portadown to Drumcree Church and back - is a celebration of their heritage. But many Catholics regard it as provocative.

Thousands marched through Portadown
Restrictions have been imposed on the parade

Portadown Orange Order spokesman David Jones said that anyone intent on causing trouble would not help Orangemen achieve their goal.

"When we go down that road it will be in a dignified manner," he said.

District Master David Burrows said the order just wanted a peaceful parade and protests at the police barricade.

Northern Ireland Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn said he hoped the day would pass off without major incident.

"We have come through a number of contentious marches over the last fortnight with remarkably little difficulty and it's my hope that this should continue through the remainder of the marching season," he said.

Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble also appealed for calm.

It's not in anybody's interests - republican, nationalist, unionist, or whatever - for this impasse to continue

David Trimble
First minister

He added: "I'm sure we all hope that will be the case and that anyone who wants to come and support Portadown district will do so peacefully and that there will be no violence."

He said any trouble surrounding this weekend's parade would be "down to the paramilitaries".

The event is part of the Protestant marching season which commemorates William of Orange's 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over Catholic King James II, and culminates in celebrations on 12 July.

Troops have rolled out the barbed wire in readiness
Troops have rolled out the barbed wire in readiness

In previous years when the Orange parade has been forced down the Garvaghy Road amid a massive security operation, it has triggered serious disturbances in republican and nationalist areas.

The leader of the nationalist SDLP, Mark Durkan, called for cool heads on both sides of the disputed parade.

He said: "I would appeal for calm and for people, whatever their feelings or fears about the issue, to keep the peace, to keep themselves safe and out of trouble."

There are also tensions surrounding a parade at Newtownbutler in County Fermanagh on Sunday.

The Parades Commission has allowed a march through the village despite strong nationalist objections.

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The BBC's Anita McVeigh
"Police have the resources to step up the security if needed"
First Minister David Trimble
"It's not in anybody's interest... for this impasse to continue"
PSNI Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn
"The marching season this year has gone well so far"
Find out more about the Drumcree dispute in Northern Ireland

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See also:

06 Jul 02 | N Ireland
01 Jul 02 | N Ireland
27 Jun 02 | N Ireland
01 Jul 01 | N Ireland
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