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In Northern Ireland, Peace Breaks Out on Many Fronts

Orange Order leader calls for meeting with Catholics, and Britain lowers the Union Jack.

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In what political and religious leaders are calling a transformed public mood in Northern Ireland, ancient enemies appear to be edging toward reconciliation, boosting hopes of a lasting peace.

In the wake of the popular April 10 peace pact and the election in May of a multiparty assembly for the province, several encouraging moves are under way:

* In an unprecedented move, Robert Saulters, grand master of the Orange Order, on Aug. 1 will urge his Protestant organization of some 80,000 to agree to a direct meeting with Catholic nationalists.

He wants them to discuss for the first time ways of curbing sectarian tension during the province's violence-prone annual marching season, which lasts from early June to late August.

* Ronnie Flanagan, Northern Ireland's top policeman, has ordered that the Union Jack - for Protestants a symbol of their close connection with Britain, but for many Catholic nationalists a potent source of resentment - will no longer fly over police stations on public holidays.

* A British parliamentary committee is recommending that new recruits to Mr. Flanagan's force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), should be banned from joining either the Orange Order or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, its Catholic counterpart. The committee also wants police officers who already belong to such orders to publicly register their membership.

* A group of Evangelical and Catholic church members, including 130 clergy and lay leaders, is urging Christians of all denominations to seek forgiveness and to actively build friendships together.

The change of mood in Northern Ireland appears to have been caused by a combination of factors: the impact of the killing of three young Catholic brothers during disturbances earlier this month; clear signs within the Northern Ireland electorate that the peace process is supported by a substantial majority of both religious communities; and steady insistence by the British government that it will not allow the April peace agreement to unravel.

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