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Violence in Belfast

Aired July 12, 2001 - 16:12   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Violence has broken out in Belfast, in Northern Ireland. This is the time of the year, if you are not familiar with it, there are a number of tensions arising over demonstrations particularly by Protestant Orange Order. This is what they call the marching season and it typically produces quite a bit of tension.

Today, however, the tension actually erupted into something more, into violence against the local police officers, and as you see, this video taken just a short time ago. Demonstrators, counter demonstrators, some of them facing off with the police. The police under attack, a number of officers we understand were hurt as well.

CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is on the telephone line with us from Belfast to update us on the situation. Just a short time ago, Fionnuala, you were almost in the center of center of these clashes. Tell us what is going on now.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Since those pictures were taken, Joie, about an hour ago, a stand off has developed between the police, the British Army and Roman Catholic demonstrators. The police have moved back from 60 meters or so, and there is now an eerie calm about the Kremlin road as the police take up positions behind various armored vehicles.

The Catholic demonstrators moved up to where the police were originally about an hour ago. Cars have been set on fire, the air was temporarily filled with black smoke. There are members of the Protestant neighborhoods here, this being a mixed neighborhood of Protestants, Catholics. They are standing by watching and this is a situation that's going to continue for some time to come, I would think, well into this evening.

he RUC saying that five police officers have been injured including one seriously, and within the last hour we saw another police officer being taken to hospital. Gerry Kelly, of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, said that many, many Catholic demonstrators, as he put it, have been injured. The police so far have fired plastic battenround (ph) and the demonstrators have thrown petrol bombs, and missiles and pots and rocks and bricks and anything that comes to hand.

So this is very much a continuing situation -- Joie. CHEN: Fionnuala, I mentioned before that this is the height of the marching season. There are always tensions around the Orange Order marching. There is always an effort to try to keep things from breaking out before the violence does break out. I know for years we have been talking about this situation every time the Orange Order marches. But why did things go so badly today, Something that set this violence off?

SWEENEY: Well, what happened in this particular case, and yes, there has been a lot of tension in Northern Ireland in the runup the marching season, the runup to this week, actually, today, the 12th of July. But there's been a lot of tension recently in recent weeks, but in this particular area there was some trouble a number of weeks ago between Catholics and Protestants as Protestants were preparing and putting up bunting (ph) and flags and for their 12th of July celebration.

There was serious disruption to normal daily life here whereby people were attacked and children were unable to get to school through various mixed neighborhoods. So this particular road, this particular area has seen a lot of trouble in recent times, but what sparked today's clash was -- well, what happened this morning first of all, really, was that Orange Parade did actually come down Kremlin road quite early this morning.

There wasn't any disruption mainly because it was so early and they passed off peacefully. But we understand that when they were returning home having been to the center of Belfast and then all meeting up with other orange parade, that Catholic demonstrators here tried to go out and protests against these marchers through their neighborhoods. And that's when the standoff, the clash developed between the police and demonstrators -- Joie.

CHEN: Fionnuala, we have a question from our Web chat audience watching all this. Pearl Aswell asking, "Were the police prepared in advance for potential violence?"

I know they've been trying to set up some barricades and such things. SWEENEY: They haven't set up barricades as such. They are basically using their armored vehicles to get them in and out of the clash scene. The British government has spent something like 6 million pounds sterling on security operations for Drumcree, a rather famous and perhaps one of the most contentious marches of them all which took lace last Sunday about 25 miles outside Belfast.

So, yes, a lot of money has been spent and even though most of the parade passed off very peacefully today, there was a large security presence, and there always was an expectation that there would be some violence this evening as night falls. And it's only really about another hour of daylight left here, but what wasn't really expected was that there might be this kind of clash between police and Roman Catholic demonstrators.

CHEN: CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney following up on the story for us in Belfast, Northern Ireland. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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