Marchers welcome inquiry

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THOUSANDS of nationalists will gather in the city of Londonderry today to mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which Tony Blair this week announced is to be the subject of a new judicial inquiry.

The establishment of the inquiry means that for the first time the occasion may be tinged with an element of celebration as well as commemoration. Relatives of the 14 men killed, who have for years campaigned for a new investigation, regard the development as a historic breakthrough.

The 14 died when paratroopers opened fire during a civil rights march in the city in January 1972. Most observers expect the new inquiry to overturn the findings of the investigation carried out later that year by Lord Widgery, who went little further than commenting that some of the army's shooting "bordered on the reckless". The new inquiry, to be conducted by three judges headed by law lord Lord Saville, is expected to take months to complete.

In Ireland, where each such move is characterised as a concession to one side or the other, the new move is viewed as a significant victory for Irish nationalists. Perhaps motivated by this perception, both the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, and the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, have in the last few days visited troops with messages of reassurance.

The Bloody Sunday move has not been welcomed in the Unionist community, whose political representatives view it as a blow struck against the security forces. The Ulster Unionist party has responded by demanding an inquiry into allegations that in 1969-70 senior Irish politicians were instrumental in the foundation of the Provisional IRA.

The sense of nationalist advance was compounded this week by the publication in the multi-party talks of the latest London-Dublin paper, which found much more favour with nationalists than among Unionists. The talks resume in Belfast tomorrow with the two governments hopeful of making speedy progress.