18 August 2005

Fears growing ahead of loyalist march

Belfast Telegraph

Police liken trouble to ethnic cleansing

By Deborah McAleese
newsdesk@belfasttelegraph.co.uk
18 August 2005

FEARS were escalating today that a loyalist parade in Co Antrim tomorrow will fuel simmering tensions following a wave of attacks on Catholics.

And there was fury from republicans after the Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton said the series of attacks on Catholics in the mainly Protestant village of Ahoghill were not "purely sectarian".

More than 1,000 loyalists are expected to parade through the predominantly nationalist area of Rasharkin tomorrow evening, just a few miles from the under-siege village of Ahoghill.

There was growing alarm within the nationalist community over the news that 46 loyalist bands will march close to the area which several Catholic families were forced to flee from following a campaign of intimidation by loyalists.

Sinn Fein councillor Daithi McKay said people believe the Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band parade is "nothing more than a coat-trailing exercise".

Yesterday Mr Leighton visited the village of Ahoghill to reassure residents that police are doing all they can to improve the situation.

He claimed that police intelligence suggests there is more to the problem than sectarianism and "other elements" are at play.

However, Ballymena Sinn Fein councillor Monica Digney said that Mr Leighton must be the only person to think this.

She said: "It is unbelievable he said that, that he can't even come out and say 'yes it's sectarianism' because everyone knows it is purely sectarian.

"The paint they are throwing is the same colour as they paint footpaths with in Ahoghill."

According to Mr Leighton the problem in the village is "worse than ethnic cleansing" as there is "real hatred" among communities in Northern Ireland.

A number of Catholics have fled the area in fear for their lives after a sustained campaign of petrol bombings, paint bombings and attacks on homes, churches and schools in the village.

Police have stepped up surveillance in the area and yesterday it was revealed that the new police helicopter is being used in a bid to track perpetrators and protect the public.

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