- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

CROSSMAGLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) Irish Republican Army supporters armed with clubs, fence posts and other makeshift weapons clashed with riot police and soldiers yesterday at three British security installations near the Northern Ireland border.
Police said 22 officers suffered mostly minor injuries, but two with head wounds were airlifted by helicopter to a Belfast hospital.
The officers reported firing two plastic bullets to force back protesters outside one army watchtower and used batons and a further plastic bullet to beat back protesters who had forced their way into the main barracks used by soldiers and police in Crossmaglen.
One soldier suffered burn injuries after protesters filled a large oil drum with gasoline and set it alight against the barracks' main gate, police said. Two military dogs also were injured in the attack on the base.
Police said they had arrested two men and two teen-agers during the protests and had videotaped the scuffles in the hope of identifying people in the crowd.
The protests, organized by the youth wing of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, were designed to vent local opposition to the continued deployment of British troops in South Armagh, an overwhelmingly Catholic region of the Northern Ireland border where anti-British sentiments run high.
The protesters, some of them wearing masks and carrying Gaelic hockey sticks, gathered first at Crievekieran watchtower, an installation that allows soldiers to monitor traffic and conversations for several miles around.
They began pulling up fence posts and digging with shovels before being confronted by about a dozen police equipped with helmets, shields and clubs.
The protesters moved to a second watchtower, then to the joint police-army barracks in Crossmaglen, the main town in South Armagh.
Police said protesters managed to force their way through the barracks' front door and beat up the officers, who hadn't expected the attack and weren't wearing protective clothing.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was a "well-orchestrated protest that was never intended to be peaceful."
"The number of police injuries is testament to the fact that violence was the only intention of those involved violence for which they came obviously well prepared," a spokesman said.

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