N. Ireland unites against terror
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Angered by the slaying of a postman and other violence, tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants united in protests in Northern Ireland on Friday against sectarian violence.
"Bigotry is the enemy, and we will take it head-on," said Tom Gillen, Northern Ireland spokesman for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which organised protests that brought Belfast and six towns to a standstill.
Huddled under umbrellas in front of Belfast City Hall, about 10,000 people heard speeches from union chiefs urging Catholic and Protestant workers to support each other and reject voices of division.
The Belfast demonstration was one of the largest gatherings the city centre has ever seen.
Among those in the crowd were the chairman of the Board of Governors at Holy Cross primary school Father Aiden Troy, and Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble.
Sinn Fein Education Minister Martin McGuinness and SDLP leader Mark Durkan were also at the rally along with several members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Children carried placards as some schools closed for the day along with government offices and bus and train services.
Union chiefs decided to mobilise public support after anti-Catholic extremists last weekend killed a mailman, 20-year-old Danny McColgan, and issued blanket death threats to Catholic teachers and postal workers.
The extremists, who oppose Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, rescinded the threat on Wednesday.
In Omagh, where 29 people were killed in a 1998 car bomb planted by Irish Republican Army dissidents, speakers said the killers must be brought to justice. One speaker urged people in the crowd, estimated at 3,000, to shake hands.
And at each rally speakers read a prepared statement pleading for all outlawed groups -- led by the IRA on the Catholic side, and the Ulster Defence Association on the Protestant side -- to disappear.
"We call on all those engaged in acts of sectarianism or paramilitary activity to stop. In particular, we call on paramilitary organisations to disband now," the statement said.
Shadowy Protestant gangs have been responsible for most recent violence, including hundreds of crude pipebomb and grenade attacks on Catholic property.
Protestant extremists have also shocked the world with their picketing of the Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne, a protest that has inspired sporadic rioting in north Belfast for six months.
Both they and the IRA continue to make crippling "punishment" attacks on criminal rivals within their power bases, a practice that was supposed to stop under terms of the 1998 pact.
IRA dissidents opposed to their group's 1997 cease-fire are still mounting occasional bomb attacks on train lines, businesses and security force installations in Northern Ireland as well as in England.
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January 10, 2002
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