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Thursday, July 06, 2000, updated at 07:50(GMT+8)

British Troops Rushed In to Quell Belfast Violence

British troops were rushed into Northern Ireland's capital Belfast after a fourth night of violence triggered by a ban on a Protestant march through a Roman Catholic enclave, officials said on Thursday.

The army's announcement was made shortly after Northern Ireland's police chief Ronnie Flanagan warned that Protestant hardliners planned to launch bomb and gun attacks.

"We've had disturbing reports all day of the intent of some evil people on the extreme terms of the attacks they intend to carry out against my officers up to and including the use of blast bombs and indeed firearms," Flanagan told BBC television.

The violence has rocked the province's fragile peace process, which appeared to be making headway recently with the re-establishment of a power-sharing government representing the Protestant majority and Catholic minority.

As Flanagan issued his warning, violence erupted in Belfast.

Riot police in armoured vehicles drove back 60 masked youths in a Protestant "loyalist" stronghold near Belfast's city centre after they hijacked a bus and tried to use it as a barricade.

Other Protestant hardliners set cars and barricades on fire in the city.

The army said in a statement the soldiers had been deployed in Belfast at the request of senior police officers, especially as a buffer between Protestant and Catholic communities.

Under the Good Friday peace accord, British troops had stopped patrolling Belfast's streets two years ago.

The statement said there had been 61 public disorder incidents in Belfast in the previous 24 hours -- more than in the whole of last year.

"It was considered an appropriate measure to deploy soldiers to help protect the lives and property of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens," the statement said.


Meanwhile British army engineers were erecting a wall of steel and razor wire at a bridge in Drumcree, a hamlet that has become the centre of a growing storm over this year's "marching season" by the pro-British Protestant Orange Order.

British Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson condemned the Protestant rioters who have clashed with security forces.

The troops and police are enforcing an official order barring next Sunday's Orange Order parade from marching from Drumcree into the Garvaghy Road, a Catholic enclave in the town of Portadown.

"The security forces will respond accordingly. They have the resources and they have my full support," Mandelson said.

"I think we're going to see this activity going on beyond Sunday, probably for another week until after July 12," he told BBC radio. "Northern Ireland can't keep having this recurring nightmare every July and it needn't do so."

Gerry Adams -- a key figure in the peace process as head of Sinn Fein, the Republican IRA guerrilla group's political ally -- said the situation was fraught with danger.

He criticised the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police, made up mainly of Protestants, for not taking a tougher line.

"I think it's hugely dangerous," he told reporters after a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Dublin.

"The RUC are tolerating road and street barricades. There have been ongoing attacks on Catholic homes."

The Good Friday accord was designed to draw a line under three decades of sectarian strife that killed 3,600 people. Ceasefires by mainstream guerrilla groups are holding but renegade gunmen have been blamed for sporadic attacks.

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British troops were rushed into Northern Ireland's capital Belfast after a fourth night of violence triggered by a ban on a Protestant march through a Roman Catholic enclave, officials said on Thursday.

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