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North Belfast: School Day Starts With Bomb Blast - 2001-09-05

In Northern Ireland, tensions have escalated during the third day of protests in a Protestant enclave in a Catholic area. As Catholic parents and children walked along a disputed road to school in north Belfast, a home-made bomb was thrown at policemen guarding the route, injuring four of them.

About 100 children and their parents were walking down the Ardoyne road when the blast occurred. A pipe-bomb, thrown by Protestant protesters, landed near police lines. At least four officers were hurt. A break-away Protestant paramilitary group, the Red Hand Defenders, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Despite the bombing, the parents and children continued on their way to the front gates of the Holy Cross girls' school. The head of the school, Reverend Aidan Troy, fears more trouble will follow. "I think we have reached new depths this morning with what has happened with the children coming up the road," Reverend Troy said. "Midway up the road, a blast, bomb, of some sort was thrown up the road. My fear was, and I said this on Monday, was that it could have hit one of the little girls."

Tensions have been high in the area for months, with Protestants saying they have frequently been harassed by Catholics in the deeply divided north Belfast community.

But at least one Protestant politician, Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party, spoke out against the violence at the school. "This is not about children going to school any longer. This is about people who are hell-bent on creating trouble and I do not want to be part of that," he said. "My political party wanted to find a way forward in this country and that is what we want to do. We do not want to be taking the country back. I am sick to my stomach. I am ashamed to even say that I am a loyalist."

Parents and community leaders are meeting with Northern Ireland Minister Jane Kennedy to try to ease tensions and to develop a strategy aimed at solving the problem.