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DRUMCREE ON BRINK; Orangemen set for siege.

NORTHERN Ireland teetered on the brink of disaster last night as the Drumcree crisis threatened to plunge the province into bloodshed.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern joined British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton to plead for calm as Orangemen threatened to defy a marching ban and stockpiled food for a siege.

Thousands of troops and riot police were deployed along the Catholic Garvaghy Road amid growing fears of violent clashes tomorrow.

The two governments fear a con-

frontation between the security forces and hardline Loyalists could spread to the rest of the North, jeopardising the hard won peace process.

Mr Clinton begged both communities not to throw it away as Mr Blair frantically searched for a compromise.

But Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the prospects of a breakthrough ahead of tomorrow were "bleak".

Thousands of Orangemen are vowing to defy a ruling by the independent Parades Commission banning them marching down Portadown's Garvaghy Road.

Bowler-hatted Orange Order chiefs plan to mass outside Drumcree church and are preparing for a long struggle with the RUC.

The parades were marred by serious fighting in each of the last two years and local residents have already started fleeing the area.

Scores packed suitcases yesterday and drove to stay with friends.

Orangemen are believed to have stockpiled a week's food and their leaders have declared they are ready to protest for up to a year.

The Orange regalia shop in Lurgan, Co Armagh, has sold 500 sashes this week as protesters prepare for the showdown.

President Clinton, who spoke by phone to Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP man Seamus Mallon, called for a compromise.

He said it would be "tragic, indeed, if either side felt so aggrieved by the ultimate resolution of the marching issue that they lost the bigger picture in the moment.

"I think that is something that must not happen," he said.

Tensions soared last night after one man was left dead, a Catholic primary school was torched and an Orange Hall and Protestant church were attacked following arson attacks on 10 Catholic churches.

Top Downing Street aide Jonathan Powell is in the North searching for a way out of the crisis after Tony Blair's flying visit on Thursday.

The PM rang political leaders from his Chequers country retreat to urge them not to jeopardise the fragile peace.

The Parades Commission re-routed the march away from the flashpoint Garvaghy Road, but Orangemen want to walk their traditional route.

All police leave is cancelled and an extra 1,000 troops are in the province.
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Author:Maguire, Kevin; Dunn, Tom Newton
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 4, 1998
Words:425
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