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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 11:41 GMT
Q&A: Violence in north Belfast
BBC News Online explains the background to the current violence in north Belfast.

What has been happening in Belfast?

Sectarian violence is continuing in north Belfast despite community efforts to bring it to an end.

Last night at least 400 rioters were involved in clashes with security forces, injuring 48 police officers. Police say that the violence was orchestrated.

What sparked this latest clash between communities and the security forces?

Tension between Catholic and Protest residents of the Ardoyne district has been high since the violent dispute over access to the Holy Cross Catholic girl's school.

Police say that a footpath row between two women led to the riot as a row escalated into a stand-off between crowds and eventually the violence that continued into the night.

Loyalists, however, say republicans tore down a wreath to the memory of a murdered taxi driver. Nationalists deny this and allege that a Catholic mother was attacked on her way to collect her daughter from Holy Cross.

Why did a dispute over a route to a school become so important in Northern Ireland?

The Holy Cross dispute emerged as Northern Ireland reached the end of a difficult and tense summer.

For months violence had been increasingly filling the gap left by the political impasse over the final threads of the Good Friday agreement, principally arms decommissioning.

As in previous periods of the Troubles, Ardoyne in north Belfast became the trigger for violence because it is an "interface area" between Catholic and Protestant communities.

The two communities live just streets apart and the area has long been blighted with high unemployment, significant social problems and significant paramilitary activity on both sides.

So what led to the Holy Cross dispute?

Tensions between republicans and loyalists in Ardoyne began to rise in early 2001. By June, some loyalists staged a protest against Catholic children reaching Holy Cross. They alleged that republicans were using the school run as a screen to attack their community.

Within days more than 600 people were involved in rioting as the rival communities clashed. Both sides attacked the police as live ammunition was fired and petrol bombs thrown.

Police officers found it almost impossible to contain the situation. The RUC chief constable described those he believed to be organising the violence as "scum".

What happened when the children returned to school for the new school year in September?

On 3 September the children were met by a crowd of more than 200 loyalists. The crowd, hurled abuse at the children and clashed with the security forces.

Many of the children and parents were extremely distressed when they reached the school. Within days the dispute had escalated to the point that loyalists threw a blast bomb at police lines separating the school party and the protesters.

How was the situation resolved?

After 12 weeks of protests, the dispute was suspended when a group from the Protestant area agreed to a package of community safety measures. These included a traffic calming plan that the authorities hoped would dispell fears of attacks and intimidation.

So why this new violence?

The sad fact is that the latest riot is an escalation rather than a sudden reappearance of violence.

While north Belfast may have dropped from the headlines because of the suspension of the Holy Cross dispute, the violence continued into the New Year in areas neighbouring Ardoyne.

In one of the worst incidents rival mobs in a nearby area clashed at 7am two days before Christmas. Senior police officers say the violence in the city is the worst they have seen in 20 years.

Is anyone working to resolve this?

Plenty of people, including a new cross-community group backed by the first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.

However, with sectarian division running deep between the two communities, few observers believe that the situation will be resolved easily.

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