Protestant marchers and their Catholic opponents began indirect talks Saturday in hopes of defusing a standoff that has spilled over into gun and bomb attacks that increasingly have focused on police.

After six bruising nights of Protestant violence, members of the Orange Order - blocked since Sunday from parading down Garvaghy Road in Portadown - started negotiating through intermediaries with the road's resolute Catholic residents.But after the talks adjourned Saturday with no agreement, the Orangemen announced they had made a second application to march down the road Sunday. Normally, applications must be made at least seven days ahead.

"If this application is turned down, then the Parades Commission must take full responsibility for any violence at Drumcree," Orange Order spokesman David Jones said.

The commission said it would call an emergency meeting to consider the application overnight but was not expected to announce its decision until Sunday morning.

The indirect talks, which went six hours Saturday, adjourned until sometime after Sunday.

No details of the discussions were announced, leaving police to fear tensions would peak this weekend with the July 12 holiday, the Protestant celebration of the defeat of Catholic King James II by King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The streets of Belfast began emptying Saturday afternoon in anticipation of more trouble, and thousands of Orangemen swelled the increasingly impatient ranks behind steel and barbed-wire barricades in Portadown.

Late Saturday, violence flared around Drumcree as police came under attack from protesters hurling stones, bricks and fireworks. Police fired plastic bullets in return and arrested at least two.

Witnesses reported police in hand-to-hand scuffles with protesters to prevent them climbing over the barricades.