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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Orangemen on the march
Belfast Orangemen set out from their hall on the main parade of the day

Thousands of Orangemen have been taking part in the annual Twelfth of July celebrations in Northern Ireland.

Monday marked the biggest day in the Protestant marching calendar with the largest parade through Belfast.

The Orangemen have been demonstrating at 19 venues across the province to commemorate Prince William of Orange's 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over Catholic King James II.

Amid tight security, a feeder parade at Ligoniel in north Belfast, restricted by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, passed off without trouble on Monday morning.

A similar operation was launched as the lodge made the return journey home later on Monday.

Screens were erected by the security forces to shield the Orangemen from nationalist protesters, while the Ardoyne shops were blocked by a line of police vehicles.

Some trouble was reported in the area, with marshals in the nationalist Ardoyne area stepping in to stop a number of young people throwing stones and bottles.

Talks aimed at reaching agreement on how to get bands, Orangemen and their supporters through this flashpoint area have been taking place, with the NIO, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, unionists and loyalists involved.

In the run-up to the day, the Orange Order called on its supporters not to block roads following the parades.

Tight security at Ardoyne
Security was tight as the parade returned through Ardoyne
The Orangemen denied issuing a blockade threat, allegedly in response to the Parades Commission decision.

Instead, they said, several Belfast districts would delay their return to their Orange Halls at the end of the demonstration, until lodges, bands and supporters had passed the Ardoyne shop fronts unhindered.

Orangemen can walk past the nationalist Ardoyne area on their return route, however, the commission has ruled that only lodge members and marshals can take part in the parade back to Ballysillan as it passes the Ardoyne shops.

Nationalists from Ardoyne are expected to stage a protest, as they did in the morning.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the order said that arrangements would be made to ensure the free flow of traffic at major intersections.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Robert Saulters denied that the order was planning to block roads in protest.

The early parade in north Belfast passed off without incident

He said he did not expect any trouble, but supporters needed to get home to north Belfast.

However, a senior member of the SDLP said the party should consider its position on policing if the parades ruling is not enforced.

Martin Morgan said the party should "show its teeth" and "give a very strong message to the Policing Board, the secretary of state and district policing partnerships", if the ruling is contravened.

"If I was a member of a DPP and if the police push these drunken supporters up the Crumlin Road tonight, then I would consider my position as a member of that board."

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said his officers planned to take a measured approach.

Meanwhile, the Ballysillan feeder parade passed Ardoyne shops without incident on Monday morning.

Rally sites

A group of nationalists, including a number of senior republicans, protested.

A major security operation was in place as the parade passed.

On Sunday, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, and ACC McCausland appealed for a peaceful day.

Meanwhile, the biggest parade outside Belfast was the County Armagh demonstration, hosted by the Bessbrook district.

Elsewhere, DUP assembly member William Hay said four youths threw stones at a bus he was travelling on as it returned from a parade in County Londonderry.

Mr Hay said the police should have been at Greysteel, as it was a flashpoint area.

The Independent Orange Order held a demonstration in Rasharkin, County Antrim, with a religious service conducted by North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley.

The Parades Commission was set up in 1997 to make decisions on whether controversial parades should be restricted.

BBC NI's security editor Brian Rowan reports:
"The biggest security concern today is in north Belfast"

BBC NI's Yvette Shapiro reports:
"Orange Order leaders were confident that the tensions over recent days would not overshadow the demonstrations"

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