Northern Ireland's major Protestant brotherhood, the Orange Order, is mounting massive annual parades across the British territory — and warning it will pursue a dangerous standoff with riot police in a bid to march past a hostile Catholic district.

A senior Orangeman, Mervyn Gibson, says he hopes "the power of prayer" will prevent violence when Protestants march Friday night to a well-known conflict zone in north Belfast and are blocked by riot police.

Northern Ireland's official sectarian holiday, "the Twelfth," commemorates the July 12, 1690, battlefield victory of Protestant King William of Orange against the Catholic he dethroned, James II.

Many in Northern Ireland's Irish Catholic minority detest the Orangemen's drum-pounding processions as an act of intimidation. Since 1997 a British-appointed Parades Commission has restricted Orange parade routes.