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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belfast Riot Raises Fears Of Return To Violence

BELFAST -- A pro-British Protestant leader in Northern Ireland said Tuesday he feared Monday's riots between Protestants and police might herald a return to the sectarian violence that has plagued the province for decades.

David Ervine, of the Progressive Unionist Party, appealed for calm after police fired plastic bullets to disperse a crowd of bottle-throwing Protestants following a 16-hour standoff. The violence erupted after police banned a Protestant marching band from entering a pro-Irish Catholic area in south Belfast.

Seven police and nine civilians were injured in the disturbances, which put new pressure on the province's faltering peace efforts at the start of the traditionally turbulent three-month "marching season."

"I think it is all of the people of Northern Ireland who find themselves fearful that we are now entering a new phase that might well create more of the same [violence]," Ervine told BBC radio. He said Catholic republicans had sown frustration among the majority Protestants by demanding Protestant marches be banned or re-routed. But both cultures had a right to flourish, said Ervine.

In February, Irish Republican Army guerrillas ended a 17-month cease-fire in their war against British rule. Protestant Loyalist guerrillas who have observed their own 18-month-long truce have warned they are poised to strike back.

Politicians and police are concerned that "marching season" tension will hinder peace efforts ahead of all-party talks scheduled June 10.

Some 3,000 marches are held during "marching season," the majority of them by Protestants celebrating victories over the Catholic Irish in the 17th century.