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Belfast Schoolgirls Attend Classes with No Harassment - 2001-09-07

After almost a week of protests, Roman Catholic schoolgirls in Belfast, Northern Ireland attended classes Friday without any harassment from Protestant demonstrators. Two communities paid respect to a Protestant youth who was killed during rioting earlier this week.

Community leaders in Belfast say it took the death of a teenage boy to restore some order in the troubled provincial capital of Northern Ireland.

Catholic and Protestant churchmen led prayers in memory of 16-year-old Thomas McDonald, who was run over by a motorist during rioting earlier this week. A Catholic woman has been charged with murder.

For the fifth straight day, heavily armed police escorted about 100 Catholic girls through a Protestant neighborhood to the Holy Cross Primary School.

But this time there were no protests by Protestant demonstrators, who had harassed the Catholic girls on other days. Instead, many Protestants in the area attended the McDonald boy's funeral.

A local politician, Alban Maginnis, says he thinks the death has touched hearts in both communities. "I think there is a sense of mourning on both sides, that here is a young man who lost his life and this shouldn't have happened and that the people here believe there is a better way forward," he said.

Violence in Belfast has flared as the 1998 Northern Ireland peace accord threatens to unravel over demands that the Irish Republican Army disarm.

The U.S. government's chief diplomat for Northern Ireland, Richard Haas, plans to visit the province next week for talks with political leaders from all factions.

If the Northern Ireland stalemate is not resolved by September 23, Britain could face the choice of calling new elections or resuming direct rule from London.