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Children Return to School After Violent Protests in N. Ireland - 2002-01-11

A Roman Catholic school that has been the focus of violent protests in Northern Ireland reopened without incident Friday. The move follows two days of riots that left nearly 80 policemen and soldiers injured.

Classes have resumed at the Holy Cross girls school in North Belfast.

Students at the elementary school walked between a row of armored personnel carriers, as police mounted a high profile security operation.

However, there was no repeat of the violence between Catholics and Protestants that has rocked the neighborhood for the past two days.

The chief administrator of the Catholic school, the Reverend Aiden Troy, says he is relieved that the school could reopen without incident.

"I just can't get over the bravery of those little children. They've gone to school. And I'm also so pleased there was no sign of a protest being put on again this morning," Reverend Troy said.

Holy Cross school is located in a Protestant enclave in the mostly Catholic Ardoyne Road area of North Belfast.

The school was the target of protests for several months last year in a territorial dispute between the two communities.

The latest trouble erupted on Wednesday following a shoving match between a Protestant woman and a Catholic woman near the school.

For two consecutive nights, hundreds of Catholic and Protestant youths fought in the streets of the Ardoyne neighborhood. They hurled homemade bombs at police, and burned several vehicles.

Community leaders say the violence is a sign of the sectarian hatreds that persist in working class neighborhoods of North Belfast despite a 1998 peace agreement.

The peace accord was designed to end 30 years of conflict between Irish nationalists, who are predominately Catholics, and pro-British unionists, who are mostly Protestants.