Man killed as tension mounts in Ulster

LONDON, JULY 12. A man was shot dead and his body dumped next to a bonfire lit early today by Northern Irish Protestants to mark July 12, the height of the Protestant marching season, as violence continued across Northern Ireland for the fourth day.

The dead man was a Protestant with links to a paramilitary organisation and had apparently been killed by Protestants, the BBC said, indicating that the killing was not sectarian. He was found at Larne in County Antrim, near Belfast. At least 16 police officers were injured as Loyalist gangs battled the security forces around Belfast and Portadown through the night. Police used water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse protestors armed with stones and petrol bombs. Masked gunmen belonging to Protestant paramilitary organisations staged a show of force firing shots into the air from Kalashnikovs in Belfast.

Bonfires were also lit across the province last night, Fears arose of increased violence today, the 310th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, in which the Protestant King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II.

Trouble started last Sunday after a Protestant Orange Order parade was prevented from marching down the predominantly Catholic Garvaghy road in Portadown on Sunday. Local Orange Order leaders called for peaceful protests across the province which soon degenerated into violence. Protestant paramilitary groups, which are ostensibly observing a ceasefire, are thought to be behind the street violence. Militant Catholics have apparently begun to respond and an Orange Order hall in east Belfast was burned down last night. A Catholic bishop warned that Northern Ireland was in danger of ``sliding into anarchy''. He said, ``Entire communities are being harassed and intimidated and many families are living in dread.''

The clashes between the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and militant Protestants, which have been a feature of the marching season for the last few years, demonstrate simmering Protestant resentment against the political changes that have occurred in Northern Ireland since the peace agreement was signed two years ago on Good Friday. Protestants, who form the majority in the province, have traditionally dominated the province both politically and economically. The peace agreement recognised the Catholic minority's demands for equality, in the process undermining Protestant dominance.

The parades, which commemorate historic Protestant victories over the Catholics, have increasingly provided outlets for hardline Protestants opposed to the peace agreement and power-sharing with the Catholics. The Catholics see the Orange marches as a provocative reminder of the second class status they used to have in the province. The security forces are hoping that violence will recede after today and that the protestors will return to their homes as has happened in previous years. The RUC has come under criticism from both the communities for their handling of this latest crisis. The Orangemen have said that the police were too heavy handed, while the Sinn Fein leader, Mr. Martin McGuinness, said the RUC did not come down hard enough on the protestors.

The RUC chief, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, appealed to the both sides to ``direct their anger not at us'' but at those who were causing the trouble. The police said there had been 289 attacks against the security forces since the begining of the month.