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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Officers hurt in school protest blast
An injured RUC officer is given medical aid
An injured RUC officer is given medical aid
Four police officers have been injured as they escorted children to a Catholic school in a Protestant area of north Belfast after loyalist protesters set off a blast bomb.

There was panic as the device exploded close to the children and their parents walking to Holy Cross Girls' Primary School through a police cordon on the Ardoyne Road on Wednesday.

The group of about 80 pupils and their parents were being stoned by a loyalist crowd at the Glenbryn estate, and as the police moved in a device, believed to have been a blast bomb, exploded.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid has announced he is to cut his holiday short and return to the province on Thursday because of the escalation of violence in north Belfast.

Panic spread after blast attack
Panic spread after blast attack
The Red Hand Defenders, a cover name which has been used by the loyalist paramilitary UDA and LVF, said they carried out the attack.

The blast forced pupils and parents to run towards the school, many of them screaming and crying.

Two police officers suffered shrapnel injuries to the legs and two others received minor injuries.

A woman who collapsed was also taken to hospital by ambulance. A police dog was also injured.

I am totally ashamed to be a loyalist today after seeing these people attack young Catholic girls

Billy Hutchinson
Three men have been arrested following the attack.

The security forces had been bringing the children and their parents to school past loyalist protesters for the third day, following further overnight rioting in north Belfast.

For three days the police and army have set up a cordon of barriers to bring pupils safely into the school.

Residents from Glenbryn estate have been attempting to stop the children, from a nationalist area of Ardoyne, getting up the road in protest against alleged attacks on their homes.

Immediately after the explosion the police moved into the Glenbryn estate with batons raised.

School gates may close

The school board met on Wednesday afternoon and it believed to be considering closing the school's front gates, so that all pupils would have to enter the school at the back after taking a longer route from their homes.

This would prevent them having to pass Glenbryn.

The parents are to meet on Wednesday night to discuss the situation.

Philomena Flood, who was walking with her seven-year-old daughter Erinn when the bomb exploded, said: "It was absolute chaos. As the blast bomb went off, we just ran around in circles there were children everywhere we were trying to grab our own and get to the school.

Philomena Flood:
Philomena Flood: "This is a disgrace"
"These people were saying yesterday that we were the disgrace for walking, well who is the disgrace now?"

Chairman of the school's board of governors Father Aidan Troy, who was walking with the parents and children, said the group had been walking at a deliberately brisker pace so that we could not be accused of staging a march.

"This gives me nightmares to think that this could have been a four-year-old girl who had been hit," he said.

Head teacher of Holy Cross Ann Tanney said the attack was "the antithesis" of everything the school had been working to achieve.

"These types of problems should never be brought into schools and should never be the concern of children," she said.

'Ashamed to be loyalist'

Reacting to the blast, north Belfast Progressive Unionist Party assembly member Billy Hutchinson said: "I am totally ashamed to be a loyalist today after seeing these people attack young Catholic girls."

Loyalist PUP assembly member
Billy Hutchinson: Strongly condemned attack
He said the protest should not be called off, but he criticised loyalists from other areas who he said had come into Glenbryn and carried out the attack.

In a statement, Protestant Concerned residents of Upper Ardoyne also said they wanted to continue a "peaceful protest" and called on their supporters to show restraint.

Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly said loyalist paramilitaries had deliberately escalated the situation.

"The focus of all the attention must be on the UDA," he said.

DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds appealed to people intent on violence to stay away from the school and said it was now desperately important to resolve the situation.

Dialogue attempt

Northern Ireland Security Minister Jane Kennedy is holding a meeting with political representatives from the area.

Trouble flared on Tuesday evening when a crowd of loyalists in the Ardoyne Road area attacked patrolling security forces with bricks, bottles, stones, fireworks and ball bearings and shots were fired in Glenbryn.

The trouble also spread to Twaddell Avenue, part of the nationalist Crumlin Road and the North Queen Street, Limestone Road and Westland Road areas.

Tension in the area was heightened on Tuesday after a teenage cyclist was knocked down and killed.


 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Annita McVeigh
"The blast bomb...sent children and parents rushing to safety"
RUC Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan
"We have had officers killed in the past by these [bombs]"
Children from the Holy Cross school
discuss their experience of walking to school this week
Protestant residents say
the protest has not gone too far and should continue
See also:

04 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Police attacked in Belfast clashes
02 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Arsonists target Catholic Church
31 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist violence threat to peace
04 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Church plea over dispute school
05 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Eyewitness: Bomb blast at school
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