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Europe

Clinton visits Belfast amid rising sectarian tensions

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-12-07

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Northern Ireland on Friday amid an upsurge in sectarian tensions following bomb threats, riots, and a controversial decision to remove the British Union flag from Belfast's city hall.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Northern Ireland on Friday amid renewed tensions after Belfast city councillors voted not to fly the British flag all year around.

Clinton flew into a military airport outside Belfast for talks with senior leaders in the British province, wrapping up one of her last trips to Europe as America's top diplomat.

Two bombs were found in other parts of Northern Ireland overnight in a sign of of the sectarian tensions despite the peace process, although there was no apparent link to Clinton's visit.

Police said around 1,000 people rioted in Belfast after the controversial Union flag vote on Monday, and 15 officers, two security workers and a press photographer were injured in the demonstrations.

Trouble broke out minutes after Belfast city councillors voted to remove the Union Flag from City Hall, meaning it will be taken down for the first time since the building opened in 1906.

Around 3,500 people died in three decades of sectarian bloodshed between Northern Irish Protestants favouring continued union with Britain, and Catholics seeking a unified Ireland.

A 1998 peace agreement largely ended the conflict, but sporadic unrest and bomb threats continue as dissident offshoots remain violently opposed to the power-sharing government in Belfast, formed of Catholic and Protestant parties.

Police arrested four men after stopping a car in which a bomb was found in the city of Londonderry, around 60 miles (100 kilometres) from Belfast, on Thursday night, in an incident that police said was believed to have links to dissident republicans.

Hours later a letter-bomb was discovered near a postbox in Clough, an area in County Down around 25 miles (40 kilometres) from Belfast.

Clinton, speaking Thursday at the end of a brief visit to Dublin, praised Ireland as "a critical leader and partner in the ongoing work toward reconciliation and peace building."

She added she was "looking forward to my visit to Belfast tomorrow to see for myself what the situation is."

Clinton's husband, former US president Bill Clinton, was a key player in the peace process during the 1990s.

Hillary Clinton, who is due to step down as secretary of state in early 2013, is wrapping up a five-day tour which has also taken her to Prague and Brussels for a two-day NATO meeting.

Last month, she condemned the "senseless murder" of a prison officer in Northern Ireland, denouncing it as an "outrageous and cowardly act."

David Black, 52, was on his way to work at Maghaberry jail near Belfast when a car with Dublin registration plates pulled up alongside his on Northern Ireland's main M1 motorway and opened fire.

His car veered into a deep ditch, and he died at the scene.

Police said the incident bore the hallmarks of an attack by dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

"The United States remains resolute in support of the people of Northern Ireland, who have condemned violence and embraced the path to peace and reconciliation," Clinton said in a statement in November.

(AFP)

Date created : 2012-12-07

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