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Sunday, July 5, 1998 Published at 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK

Siege of Drumcree

Orangemen mark out their territory next to the church

Up to 2,000 Orangemen are in the area surrounding Drumcree church in Portadown at the beginning of their protest over the Garvachy Road march ban.

Denis Murray looks back on how the threatened stand-off began on Sunday
The stand off between the men and security forces looks set to continue after the Orange Order parade was turned back when members attempted to take their traditional route back from a church service to Portadown town centre.

Estimates suggest around 2,000 Orangemen may bed down for the first night of what could be a long siege in the fields surrounding the church.

[ image: The march to the church was peaceful]
The march to the church was peaceful
The other side of a massive barrier made of steel, barbed wire and trenches are around 1,000 police officers backed up by a similar number of British army soldiers.

They are protecting the nationalist Garvaghy Road area whose residents have long objected to the march, and who are this year protected by a ruling from the government's independent Parades Commission.

[ image: Campsite: Orangemen get prepared]
Campsite: Orangemen get prepared
The commission asked Orangemen to return via the same route they take to the church every year, which skirts the nationalist area but does not enter it.

But despite a peaceful Sunday morning march by thousands of Orangemen from across the province along this route, the men tried to use the banned way back and were refused entry.

Many of the Orangemen then set up camp with the stated intention of staying until they are allowed to walk down the road.

Some have promised to stay for up to a year if necessary.

Complete stalemate

With ditches across the fields and up to three strands of barbed wire in the way, under present circumstances the Orangemen have no chance of getting through.

[ image: Across the barricades - a man tries to get through]
Across the barricades - a man tries to get through
Two men who tried to scramble through the barricades were met by police who arrested them.

They were requested not to do so by Orange Order members using a loud hailer.

RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan says he will not overturn the commission ruling.

On Monday the Parades Commission is due to announce decisions on other marches due to take place around the July 12 period next weekend, and it is though this could have a bearing on the situation at Drumcree.

Fears of trouble elsewhere

Despite the calm scenes around the church there is a tense atmosphere across Northern Ireland.

[ image: A fire lit by protesters in north Belfast on Sunday]
A fire lit by protesters in north Belfast on Sunday
Previous incidents at Drumcree have seen disorder spreading elsewhere, and Mr Flanagan has admitted he fears hardliners on both sides of the divide using the opportunity to damage the peace process.

So far there has been only minor trouble.

A car was burnt out by a crowd of 100 in north Belfast while roads were blocked by protesters in the south and east of the city.

There were also reports of occasional stoning of passing traffic.

More serious was the seizing of 48 petrol bombs in Londonderry before the Drumcree march began.

A facility for making such weapons was also discovered in Carricfergus, Co Antrim.

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