Belfast rocked by fresh violence

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The Independent Online
TWO SHOPS and a pub in Belfast city centre were hit by incendiary attacks early yesterday as loss adjusters examined up to 200 properties damaged by a car bomb in the middle of Banbridge, Co Down.

Police confirmed fires which broke out at the Shirt Centre, Donegall Square West, the Army and Navy stores at Smithfield and White's Tavern in Crown Entry, all in Belfast, were started by incendiary devices.

Repair costs in Banbridge however are expected to run into millions of pounds. Police said at least six buildings were extensively damaged, but traders in Newry Street and adjoining Bridge Street, the town's main shopping thoroughfare, said up to 200 premises were affected in some way by the force of the explosion.

Hundreds of people were in the area at the time and with a warning of just 20 minutes to evacuate, police said it was a miracle no one was killed by the 500lb bomb left in an abandoned red Vauxhall Cavalier. 33 civilians and two RUC officers were hurt, but none badly.

Traders in Banbridge today said they always feared it would be a matter of time before they were hit. Even though some are hoping to be back in business by tomorrow it could be the new year before others have wrecked shops rebuilt.

Electrical store owner John Lunney said: "This attack was bound to happen because of the lack of security."

Ex-members of the IRA who broke away from the Provisionals late last year because of their opposition to the peace strategy of the Sinn Fein leadership - and who now call themselves Real IRA - have been blamed for the Banbridge car bombing.

Lagan Valley Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "It is clear we are a long way from peace in Northern Ireland."

He added: "Many people will find it unacceptable that the release of terrorist prisoners is progressing against a backdrop of continuing violence by all of the terrorist organisations."

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