Thousands of people held vigils for peace across Northern Ireland to protest the killings of a policeman and two soldiers that threaten to re-ignite sectarian conflict in the region. The murders were claimed by two dissident offshoots of the IRA.
AFP - Thousands of people joined peace vigils in Northern Ireland Wednesday to protest the killings of a policeman and two soldiers which threaten to re-ignite sectarian conflict after a decade of calm.
Rallies were held across the province in Belfast, Lisburn, Newry, Downpatrick and Londonderry showing solidarity against two deadly attacks claimed by Republican dissidents.
In Belfast, the streets around City Hall were brought to a standstill as thousands of people gathered for a rally organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
Protestors held a couple of minutes' silence and a lone piper played "Amazing Grace" and "Abide With Me".
"The callous attacks of the last few days were an assault on every citizen who supports peace," Peter Bunting, the ICTU's assistant general secretary, told the crowd.
"(The killers) must be faced down with a massive display of the unity of the people of Northern Ireland," he said on the BBC earlier.
The protests came as Pope Benedict XVI condemned the killings as "abominable acts of terrorism", while political leaders insisted that they would not throw the peace process off course.
Police are still questioning two men aged 17 and 37 arrested over the policeman's death Monday, which came 48 hours after two British soldiers were gunned down outside their army base.
The deadly attacks, the first such incidents in over a decade, have been claimed by two dissident Republican groups.
The Real IRA said it killed the soldiers at the Massereene barracks northwest of Belfast on Saturday, while Continuity IRA said it shot dead policeman Stephen Carroll, 48, in Craigavon, southwest of the capital.
The sense of simmering tension was underlined as police reported three minor disturbances overnight near to where Carroll was killed, including objects being pushed into the street.
Motorists were warned to keep away from the area while police monitored the situation.
Britain and Ireland have joined the province's political leaders in vowing that the violence will not shake the devolved power-sharing government which has Protestant and Catholic former foes since 2007.
British premier Gordon Brown said that Northern Ireland was currently seeing a degree of unity against the attacks "that some people thought they would never see in their lifetime".
He added that Wednesday's peace marches highlight "the defiance and the determination to stand up to the evil of criminal violence... to say with one voice that the peace that the people of Northern Ireland are building, no murderers should ever be allowed to destroy".
And in Dublin, the Dail (lower house of parliament) unanimously passed an all-party motion "utterly condemning" the murders and affirming the republican groups responsible had "no mandate or support" from the Irish people.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the killers were a "tiny and unrepresentative group of evil people" whose actions are futile.
"They cannot succeed and they will not succeed. We will overcome the evil and unrepresentative minority who want to drag us back to the past," he said.
The Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are both splinter groups of the IRA, which has laid down its arms and was the military wing of Catholic socialists Sinn Fein, which now shares power in Northern Ireland with conservative Protestant former foes the Democratic Unionists.
The Real IRA was behind Northern Ireland's most deadly attack, the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people.
In an unrelated incident Wednesday, a former Northern Ireland policeman killed himself after being challenged about an armed bank robbery.
The man, who was not named, was confronted by police near his home in County Antrim north of Belfast after officers followed his car following an armed bank raid. He pulled out a gun and shot himself.
"Despite the best efforts of police and paramedics the man died at the scene," said a police spokesman.
Date created : 2009-03-11