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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 16:35 GMT
Tight security as schools reopen
Parent and child make their way to Holy Cross primary school
Pupils made their way to Holy Cross school
Pupils have returned to all the schools affected by two days of sectarian violence in north Belfast.

Serious rioting on Thursday night left 31 police officers and three soldiers injured.

Clashes between nationalists and loyalists had affected a number of schools in the Ardoyne, Ballysillan and Ligoneil areas.

Catholic parents and children made their way to Holy Cross Girls primary through the Protestant Glenbryn area amid tight security on Friday morning.

But there was no resumption of the protest by loyalist residents.

This was never a dispute this week about Holy Cross

Billy Hutchinson

North Belfast Progressive Unionist assembly member Billy Hutchinson said fears that the loyalist protest would resume were unfounded.

"This was never a dispute this week about Holy Cross.

"It was a sectarian attack from nationalists into a loyalist community and, all of a sudden, the school and the media decided to turn it into a Holy Cross dispute," he said.

School disruption

The school, where sectarian protests flared last September, closed on Wednesday after trouble erupted in the area, prompting violent riots.

On Thursday, a group of men entered Our Lady of Mercy Catholic secondary school and smashed 17 vehicles in the car park as pupils looked on.

Pupils at the Boys' and Girls' Model secondary schools had to be taken home in police Land Rovers over concerns for their safety.

Click here for a map of where the rioting took place

The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland visited the Boys' and Girls' Model schools on Friday.

riot scene
Cars were set alight in the street by rioters

Dr Alistair Dunlop said life in the area had to continue as normal.

"I think it's important that we all do what we can to keep thinks normal so that we can begin to move through this."

Brendan Mailey, of the Catholic Right to Education Group, said the absence of a protest at Holy Cross could help diffuse the situation.

Anne Bill, a spokeswoman for the Loyalist Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne, said there were positive signs.

Pitched battles

Nationalist and loyalist communities have blamed each other for the two nights of rioting, but youths from both sides were out in force.

On Thursday night, hundreds of nationalist and loyalist youths confronted security forces, launching waves of attacks with petrol bombs, fireworks, bottles and blast bombs.

P> Police fired seven plastic bullets at the crowds during pitched battles in Ardoyne.

Nearby, about 60 loyalists confronted troops at Twaddell Avenue where a soldier was injured by an acid bomb.

He was treated at the scene and returned to duty shortly afterwards. One police officer was kept in hospital overnight after suffering concussion but was later discharged.

Meanwhile, rioters from both sides clashed in the Whitewell area of north Belfast as police were dealing with the trouble in Ardoyne.

Education Minister Martin McGuinness will discuss the situation in a meeting with Belfast Education and Library Board on Friday.

He said teachers were doing "heroic work against a terrible backdrop".

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said he hoped a community forum proposed last year, which has not yet formally met, could help solved the problem.

He said: "The vast majority of people, on both sides, do not want to see this trouble on our streets."

Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions met senior police officers on Friday to discuss the school attacks.

Spokesman Tom Gillen said ICTU would also be meeting with members of the teaching and other public sector unions next week.

Back to the story
The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"The atmosphere remains sour and angry"
SDLP deputy leader Brid Rogers
"There is the potential for stability"
Ruth Leitch, educational psychologist
"(In the past) schools have been viewed by children and adults and teachers alike as a safe haven"
Director of Democratic Dialogue Robin Wilson
"Everybody has got a story about how the riots started"

NI riots
Are children being used as political pawns?
See also:

11 Jan 02 | Education
Belfast school's story
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
School talks follow riots
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Cars attacked at Catholic school
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Footpath row 'led to riots'
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
North Belfast's streets of hatred
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Q&A: Violence in north Belfast
09 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Rioting follows NI school dispute
10 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Head to Head: Riots in Ardoyne Road
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