Several youths smashed their way into a parked silver BMW, pushed it toward police lines and set it on fire. A police armored car rammed the vehicle into a sidewalk, then a mobile water cannon doused the flames and turned its jets on the growing crowd of rioters.
Soon the Ardoyne crowd, fueled by militants from other hardline Catholic parts of Belfast, swelled to more than 1,000 on two narrow side streets.
In a bid to defuse the tensions, police permitted the Catholic Ardoyne residents to stage their own march on Crumlin Road — even though the unruly procession passed dangerously close to an angry crowd of a few hundred Protestants. The Catholics bore a banner at the front that read "Ardoyne residents have rights too."
Both sides traded vulgar verbal abuse. Masked, hooded youths within the much larger Catholic group tossed bottles and stones at the Protestants, who retaliated in kind. Soon salvos of bricks, golf balls and even planks of wood were flying back and forth over the helmeted heads of the police, who saturated the area to ensure that the two sides could not get within punching distance of the other.
Before the confrontation, Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party, said the crux of the problem was the Orangemen's longstanding refusal to negotiate directly with anti-Orange groups from Catholic districts.
"The Orange (Order) should have their day, but the people in the host community have a right to be talked to," Adams said.
Commentators agree that the Orange Order's boycott on direct contact with the enemy appears anachronistic given that Northern Ireland's government is led chiefly by Orangemen and Sinn Fein, who do talk and work together.
But the Ardoyne conflict also defies easy resolution because of the tight confines of Belfast geography.
The starting point and final destination for the local Orangemen marching Thursday was their lodge, and Crumlin Road is the only direct link between it and the day's main Orange parade. That means any Orange march in the area must pass the Ardoyne shops.
Orange Order, http://bit.ly/reQKqQ
Parades Commission, http://bit.ly/OzeyhC
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