An Ominous Drumbeat

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland: Protestant marches through Northern Ireland, part of an annual celebration of 300-year-old victories over Catholics, have taken on an ugly cast in the last two days, leading to more than 100 car burnings and widespread streetfighting. Some Catholic residents have fled their homes to avoid harm. While last year's marching season brought some violence as well, the IRA's shattering of a 17-month cease-fire last February has created an exceptionally stressful atmosphere, reports TIME's Barry Hillenbrand. Police have tried to keep the marchers in hand by blocking access to Catholic neighborhoods, but they have been unable to prevent scuffles in surrounding areas. "This is a tribal warfare zone," says Hillenbrand. "The marches have the same effect as a white supremacy group marching through a black neighborhood in the United States would. The most dangerous things that have happened are the murder of the Catholic taxi driver on Sunday night and the harassing of Catholic families." The worst may be yet to come: Friday marks the 306th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, the Protestant victory that established England's rule over Ireland. Protestant marchers will be out en masse, and unless the police can prevent further clashes, Hillenbrand says, Catholic-Protestant relations could relapse to the hostility of the last decade. Peace talks in Belfast, which have been proceeding at a snail's pace for the past month, have been suspended pending the outcome of the marches. -- Anita Hamilton