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Catholics mark 'Bloody Sunday' anniversary, demand new probe

headstone January 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:10 p.m. EST (0210 GMT)

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LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- They were in no mood to forget -- or forgive.

In a candlelight ceremony, Catholics Thursday remembered the 25th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" with a call for British authorities to reinvestigate the massacre.

Bells rang out and a two-minute silence fell as several hundred mourners gathered around a simple grey monument, which marks the death January 30, 1972, of 13 demonstrators slain by British troops.

For years, the killings helped galvanize the Irish Republican Army's anti-British insurgency. And even after a quarter century, the incident continues to divide both sides in the still-simmering dispute over Northern Ireland.

Catholics plan to march Sunday along the same route taken on Bloody Sunday.

Critics: Probe was flawed

There is controversial new evidence that raises questions about the official version of what happened that day. Some Catholics claim British troops fired at demonstrators from the city's 17th-century walls, and that soldiers lied during the original inquiry.

There also are new suggestions that those involved in the investigation headed by then-British Chief Justice Lord Widgery ignored vital evidence.

"Lord Widgery, who was the most legendary legal mind in both England and the United Kingdom at the time, was used by his government to cover up mass murder," contends Don Mullen, author of "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday."

Top officials in Ireland are calling for another look at the case. "It is certainly incumbent upon the British government and Northern Ireland office that steps should be taken immediately and the new evidence brought forward," said Dick Spring, Irish deputy prime minister.

Who fired when?

Nobody disputes that British paratroopers opened fire after blocking a protest march against the internment without trial of several hundred Catholics suspected of IRA activities.

The issue is who fired when. The soldiers said they were fired on first, a claim supported by the official inquiry but disputed by thousands of Catholic witnesses.

In Belfast, lawyers for the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, an activist group, filed papers in the High Court demanding a new inquiry. The 1972 investigation determined that those killed were not proven armed, but some may have been, and officials concluded that no soldiers should be charged with murder.

Pressure mounts to reopen case

Indeed, pressure is mounting on the British government to reexamine the events of that day, a request that prompted heated debate and catcalls Thursday in the House of Commons.

Londonderry's moderate Catholic member of British Parliament, John Hume, pressed British Prime Minister John Major to reopen the investigation.

"Given that he (Major) has told me in writing that those who were killed on Bloody Sunday should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot while handling firearms or explosives -- if that is the case, could he please tell me why they were shot?" Hume asked.

Major dismissed Hume's protest, saying the killings had been properly investigated.


"The events of 25 years ago constituted a terrible tragedy," Major said. "And I believe everyone is determined that the lessons of that day are never forgotten."

He was bolstered by Protestant Union leader Rev. Ian Paisley, who expressed outrage at the possibility of reexamining the case.

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Peace process on the line

Calls to reopen the probe on Bloody Sunday are coming at a delicate time in Catholic-Protestant relations. Rhetoric from both sides has escalated, and the IRA has resumed the bombing of targets in Britain.

"There are a great many people on the Unionist side who feel such a gesture would be little more than a surrender to nationalist pressure at the moment, and one more affront to the Unionist community," said Bernard Purcell of the Irish Independent.

But in Londonderry, there is a consensus that if today's peace process is to go forward, what they perceive as the wrongs of the past must be laid to rest.

Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.  

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