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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 21:18 GMT

RUC chief rejects Drumcree claims

Orangemen have vowed to continue the protest

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, has rejected claims by Orangemen that his officers provoked serious violence at Drumcree.

BBC Northern Ireland correspondent Denis Murray: Drumcree remains a key issue
Ten Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and four protesters were injured in disturbances on the outskirts of Portadown, County Armagh on Thursday night.

The police were attacked with bricks, stones and fireworks and one officer responded by firing one round of plastic bullets.

A 20-year-old woman in the crowd suffered a broken wrist and a 72-year-old man was hit in the eye but not seriously hurt.

Five month stand-off

Orangemen have been involved in a stand-off at Drumcree since July when they were barred from marching down the overwhelmingly nationalist Garvaghy Road by the Parades Commission.

[ image: Riot police in landrovers moved in]
Riot police in landrovers moved in
Portadown Orangmen's leader David Jones has blamed the RUC for the latest violence, saying they made an "unprovoked" attack on the crowd.

But Mr Flanagan hit back: "Did you ever hear such nonsense?" he said. "People arrived with fireworks in their back pockets, with iron bars, with cudgels, with stones, with bricks and bottles - it is absolute nonsense."

He said many of those in the 1,000-strong crowd arrived intent on a confrontation.

Ulster Unionists' Ken Maginnis: "We have no time for violence"
The Drumcree Orangemen have been criticised by the government and the opposition as well as senior churchmen.

No sign of compromise

But they remain adamant that they are simply trying to exercise their right to walk down "the Queen's highway" and say they will succeed before the end of the year.

Mr Flanagan said violence was not the answer to the dispute and said he hoped the Orangemen and the Garvaghy Road residents could reach an agreement.

The Orangemen have refused to talk to the Garvaghy Road residents' association because it is headed by a former IRA prisoner.

He said: "When people engage in protest knowing that violence is an inevitable outcome, I think they have a tremendous responsibility to consider the continuation of such protest."

[ image: Jones:
Jones: "Unprovoked attack"
Mr Jones said the demonstration had been peaceful and accused the police of being heavy-handed.

He said: "The complete protest prior to that happening went totally peacefully. The crowd were going down twards where the landrovers were.

'Totally unprovoked'

"As they approached the Land Rovers, the police came out from behind the Land Rovers in their riot gear. People were knocked to the ground. It was a totally unprovoked attack by the RUC."

The Security Minister Adam Ingram said the incident was a "throwback to behaviour that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland want an end to.

"The issues surrounding Drumcree cannot be resolved by riot and violence," he said.

Andrew Mackay, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, attacked the "disgraceful violent behaviour" of the protesters.

He said there was "absolutely no excuse for such violence" and hoped the courts would deal with the "mindless thugs" accordingly.

Mr Mackay said yet again the RUC was seen to be maintaining the rule of law against "the threat of anarchy and rule by mob in Northern Ireland - and yet again we see them pay the price with the injuries they have sustained at Drumcree".

'No place for confrontation'

The Ulster Unionists' security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, said violent confrontations had no place in Northern Ireland.

He told the BBC: "David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist party have no time for violence from whatever quarter it may come. We worked hard to overcome that violence and we will continue to do so."

The protesters are planning major demonstrations on 19 December and 23 December.

Mr Jones said: "We want to get down the road in 1998 and we are determined. Unless we are allowed to parade we will be there Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day."

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