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22 June 2000 Edition

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Fears grow in Portadown

BY CAƍTLIN DOHERTY

The anxiety-ridden countdown to 2 July, when the Orange Order intends to walk down the Garvaghy Road, has started in nationalist areas of Portadown.

Fears are already running high as a campaign of loyalist intimidation and violence is being carried out daily.

On Tuesday there were more attacks on Craigwell Avenue. Stones and bottles were also thrown at St. Mary's Youth Club, where young children were taking part in sporting activities.

On Monday, a school minibus was attacked in the middle of the afternoon on the Corcrain Road. The children travelling in the bus were terrorised as stones and various other missiles were hurled at the windscreen and windows of the vehicle.

Over the weekend, loyalist gangs carried out a campaign of terror in the Obins Street area. Massive fireworks were directed towards Catholic homes in Obins Drive and Obins Avenue.

The attacks, which began around midnight, continued for several hours. Families already living in fear of nightly attacks were terrorised in both streets and the loud explosions could be heard around the whole town.

Last week, Catholic workers employed by Denny's food processing plant also downed tools on Friday after placards carrying sectarian slogans were erected on the gates of the main entry to the factory.

The placards, measuring 8 feet by 4, referred to the killing of Robert Hamill. Another placard, in reference to Bloody Sunday, bore the slogan ``PARAS, SHOOT-TO-KILL''.

In another sign of how tense the situation has become, workers also demanded that the factory management permit vehicle access from the nationalist Obins Street entrance. Over the past week, loyalists have thrown missiles at Catholics leaving the factory and lorries belonging to a Catholic-owned haulage firm have also been damaged.

Finally, there has been a string of attacks on Catholic taxis. Last Friday, a driver narrowly escaped injury when a brick smashed the vehicle's front windscreen, showering the driver with glass.

It has also emerged that the Orange Order is planning a mammoth rally in Portadown and Drumcree on Saturday. Publicity has been placed in all provincial papers calling for support for the rally.

The event is expected to be used as a launch pad for protests leading up to the week of 2 July.

A spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) said that this has heightened tensions dramatically. ``News of the rally is extremely worrying. Catholic residents in Obins street and Craigwell will once again be vulnerable.''

``There has been a string of attacks on nationalists and Catholic homes in recent weeks. Once again, families and homes will be the target of intimidation and attacks''.

It is on this backdrop of violence that a GRRC delegation met with the Irish Foreign minister Brian Cowen on Wednesday, 21 June, in Dublin.

There has also been a mixed reaction to the recent Spotlight program in which the Orange Volunteers said they drew their membership from the ranks of the Orange Order.

The link between the Orange Order and loyalist death squads is nothing new. In recent months, David Jones has already been working hand in hand with Adair and links have been squared between the LVF in Portadown and the UDA/UFF.
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