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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Loyalist Marches Stir Belfast Violence

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Catholic nationalists jeered and threw bottles at Northern Irish Protestants as they marched through a Belfast flashpoint Wednesday at the start of annual parades that are testing the province's fragile peace process.

Sporadic violence broke out across Northern Ireland on the "Glorious Twelfth," which marks a Protestant victory in battle 305 years ago.

At least 13 people were injured and 10 arrested, police said.

Police in riot gear with armored four-wheel-drive vehicles swarmed into the flashpoint Lower Ormeau Road area early Wednesday after local residents said they would try to block the march. They sealed in furious residents to avoid confrontation.

Belfast officials feared a repeat of the violence in the country town of Portadown which flared when Protestant Orangemen insisted on marching through nationalist Roman Catholic areas.

The dispute was resolved, but only after clashes between police and Protestant activists.

A few bottles smashed harmlessly in the Lower Ormeau Road. Most nationalists banged rubbish bin lids and blew whistles to protest against the bowler-hatted Orangemen loudly playing drums and pipes to commemorate the victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

Residents were angered by what they considered to be heavy-handed policing.

Gerry Adams, president of the Irish Republican Army's Sinn Fein political wing, issued a statement appealing for calm and accusing the police of provocation.

"Despite the clear provocation by the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and the triumphalist noises from the Orange Order, I would appeal for calm," said Adams, who telephoned police headquarters to protest at what he called a "curfew."

Adams had already said he recognized the order's right to march but that they should take account of the "changed agenda" and be sympathetic to the feelings of local people.

Protesters unfurled banners saying "Reroute sectarian marches" and about 300 people chanted "We want the curfew lifted," as they confronted police lines.

Tens of thousands of the province's Orangemen, standard bearers of Protestant life in the British province, parade each July 12 to mark the Battle of the Boyne when Protestant King William of Orange routed Catholic King James's forces in 1690.

This is the first year since the troubles began 25 years ago that Orange Day parades have taken place against a backdrop of peace. Last September the IRA declared a cease-fire and that move was matched by Protestant guerrillas in mid-October.

The "Marching Season" has painfully laid bare the old hostilities that have shaped Northern Ireland's political life, showing that guns and bombs may have been silenced but little progress has been made in securing communal harmony.

Orangemen see July 12 as an important symbol of their allegiance to Britain but nationalists see it as anachronistic and tinged with triumphalism and old prejudices.

The angry Catholic response to the loyalist marches followed the renewal of street violence last week after Britain's release of Hugh Clegg, a British soldier found guilty of the illegal killing of a Catholic youth at an army checkpoint.