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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
US condemns Belfast violence
The police acted as a buffer zone for the children
The police acted as a buffer zone for the children
The United States government has urged politicians in Northern Ireland to do what they can to resolve the Holy Cross Primary School dispute.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there could be no justification for young children having to run what he called a "gauntlet of hate" in order to get to school.

Parents and children returned home safely from the Catholic school in north Belfast amid tight security in the face of loyalist protests.

"We are deeply disturbed by these reports that there has been increasing violence in Belfast," he said.

'Denounce violence'

"We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the threats against these young girls and their parents by paramiliatries."

He also called on Northern Ireland's party leaders to publicy denounce the violence.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Dr John Reid urged the community to isolate those responsible for recent "savage sectarian attacks" surrounding loyalist protests at the school.

Cutting short his holiday, Dr Reid said on Thursday that he had reacted to the violent events in north Belfast "with horror".


There is increasing evidence that elements of the UDA are on anything but ceasefire

Dr John Reid

Dr Reid was asked at a news conference how Red Hand Defenders' attacks would affect the UDA, which, along with the LVF, has used the cover name.

"While the UDA themselves declare they are on ceasefire there is increasing evidence that elements of the UDA are on anything but ceasefire," he said.

He said that if there was evidence of a "systematic breakdown" he would take the "necessary action".

In a message to both sides in the dispute, he said: "They can use those events to entrench their positions, to blame the other side, or they can use that crisis as a spur to finding a political resolution of the deep bitterness and hatred that seems to exist in certain sections of the community."

Demonstrations

Protesters blew whistles and air horns on Thursday as pupils from Holy Cross walked to and from the school through a heavy security corridor.

The security forces acted as a buffer between protesters and the pupils on the fourth day of demonstrations, as the Catholic schoolgirls walked through a Protestant area.

John Reid called for end to protests
John Reid called for end to protests

On Thursday morning, four Catholic parents of pupils at Holy Cross said they had received death threats from loyalist paramilitaries.

Philomena Flood said she and three other parents were told by police about the threat from the Red Hand Defenders.

It said they would be killed if they were seen taking their children to the school.

Contentious route

The RUC said they had received assurances from residents of the loyalist Glenbryn estate that all efforts would be made to keep paramilitaries away from the protest, in which a blast bomb was thrown on Wednesday.

Three men arrested in connection with the blast bomb attack were released without charge on Thursday.

As the Catholic girls passed Glenbryn, more than 100 residents stood with their backs to the parents and children banging bin lids and blowing whistles.

Assistant Chief Constable for Belfast Alan McQuillan said Thursday's protest saw a "significant change in the nature and character of the protest which allowed the police operation to be adjusted accordingly".

A north Belfast priest, Father Aidan Troy, consulted with security chiefs on Thursday before Catholic parents decided to take their children through the contentious Ardoyne Road route.

Dr Robin Eames
Dr Eames: Urged both sides to enter dialogue

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams met nationalist residents on Thursday. He also offered to hold talks with loyalists.

Mr Adams said there could be no justification for the "bigoted, sectarian abuse" parents and their children were being subjected to.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP said he welcomed the "de-escalation" of the protest.

Four police officers were injured in the blast bomb in Wednesday's attack as they escorted children to the school. The Red Hand Defenders said it carried out the attack.

The Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, said the situation had "festered far too long".

"What we have got to do is ask both sides to recognise that you cannot isolate this issue," he said.

Residents from the loyalist Glenbryn are protesting against alleged attacks on their homes by republicans.

Meanwhile, several Northern Ireland children's charities have united to call for a speedy resolution to the situation.

ChildLine, the Parents Advice Centre and the NSPCC said they were willing to assist children and their families in any way they could.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonny Dymond
looks at how the conflict is portrayed in the US media
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
06 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Ardoyne school dispute: Parents' dilemma
05 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Eyewitness: Bomb blast at school
06 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Picture gallery: School dispute day four
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