BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Police commanders and politicians appealed Wednesday for Protestant hard-liners to call off street protests that have caused rioting, fear and destruction across Northern Ireland.
At daybreak, Belfast commuters picked their way carefully down roads strewn with shattered glass, rubble and occasional burned-out vehicles, the product of a third consecutive night of unrest in hard-line Protestant neighborhoods. In the most serious incident, unidentified gunmen exchanged fire with police in north Belfast but nobody was reported injured.
The mounting attacks on police and Catholic properties are designed to force British authorities to reverse their decision to bar a traditional Protestant parade from a Catholic neighborhood this Sunday. The now-annual dispute first triggered widespread violence in 1996, when police eventually reversed a decision to block the same parade by the Orange Order.
Many Catholics despise Orange parades, which often feature drum-thumping ''kick the pope'' bands and commemorate 300-year-old Protestant victories over Catholics.
More than 2,000 such parades are staged each summer, only a few dozen of which go through predominantly Catholic areas.
This time Northern Ireland's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has responded firmly when challenged, particularly in farm fields near Portadown, 30 miles southwest of Belfast.
There, security forces for the past three nights have prevented Protestant mobs from reaching the nearby Garvaghy Road, where most of Portadown's Catholic minority lives.
Late Tuesday, police came under attack from a 500-strong Protestant mob. Attackers hurled firecrackers and rocks, fired ball bearings from slingshots, and squirted acid from syringes at rows of riot police.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.