BELFAST -- Crowds of Protestant hardliners blocked key roads in Belfast and rioted for a third straight night yesterday in a long-building explosion of frustration at Northern Ireland's peace process.
At least 50 officers were wounded over the weekend when extremists fought riot police and British troops in the worst Protestant violence in a decade. The British governor and the territory's police chief said two outlawed Protestant paramilitary groups mounted machine-gun and grenade attacks on police.
The rampage followed British authorities' refusal Saturday to permit the Orange Order, Northern Ireland's major Protestant brotherhood, to parade as it usually does each year along the boundary of Catholic west Belfast.
Yesterday's road blockades, formed by men, women, and children, caused traffic jams that lasted for hours. Adding to the chaos were some who called Belfast businesses and, claiming to be police officers, ordered them to send workers home and close early on security grounds.
Protestant riots resumed at nightfall yesterday in several parts of Belfast, although the mobs were smaller, the level of destruction less severe, and the intensity of violence greatly reduced from the weekend. No new injuries were reported.
Protestants threw firebombs at a heavily fortified police base on the line between British Protestant and Irish Catholic turf in West Belfast. Gangs pelted passing cars on the city's two major highways with stones, forcing police to divert traffic to smaller roads.
Gangs also hijacked and burned more vehicles on the Crumlin Road in North Belfast, although police prevented the hijacking of a bus and seized crates of Molotov cocktails and paint-filled balloons.
Several thousand police equipped with shields, body armor, flame-retardant suits, guns loaded with plastic bullets, armored personnel carriers, mobile water cannon, and tear gas were on standby in fortified barracks across this city of 600,000. About 1,200 British soldiers also were deployed to support the police.
British governor Peter Hain and police commander Hugh Orde said the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association, which are supposed to be observing cease-fires in support of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, carried out the weekend attacks on police.
Hain said he would issue a policy statement within the next few days, raising widespread expectations he will withdraw Britain's recognition of the groups' 1994 cease-fire. Their truce has been repeatedly violated over the past decade -- but rarely so brazenly as last weekend.
Police have accused the Ulster Volunteer Force, which wields brutal authority in many Protestant parts of Belfast and runs a range of criminal rackets including counterfeiting and smuggling cigarettes, of killing four Protestant men this summer in a turf war with a breakaway drug dealing gang.
Hain could order a return to prison for dozens of UVF and UDA convicts who received prison paroles as part of the 1998 peace deal. Catholic leaders demanded sterner action against both groups.
Confrontations over Protestant parades, particularly near Catholic areas, have triggered riots in the past. The most widespread violence happened from 1996 to 1998, when Catholic militants blockaded Protestants' parade routes.
Since then, a government-appointed Parades Commission imposed restrictions on disputed Protestant parades. Until now, Orangemen usually accepted with sullen resignation.
But when the commission ordered Saturday's marchers to parade through a factory site instead of the main road, Orange leaders called for illegal sit-down protests.