'Ring of steel' around City set to tighten

Security zone: Potential IRA targets given added protection as peace efforts stall again
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The Independent Online


The City of London is planning to enlarge its "ring of steel" security zone to include the Old Bailey and St Paul's Cathedral, in response to the new IRA bombing campaign, it emerged yesterday.

Security is also being stepped up at the Canary Wharf tower, Britain's tallest building, after the massive Docklands explosion which first shattered the ceasefire.

The security cordon around the heart of the city's financial heart could be enlarged within weeks to take in another 40,000 workers if proposals by the City Corporation, the local authority, are backed by businesses, London Transport and neighbouring boroughs.

The Corporation's pounds 1m proposal to extend traffic restrictions to the west and north-west is backed by the City of London Police. Under the scheme, which was first proposed a year ago, routes will be restricted and diverted into two roads with police checkpoints.

The cordon was established in 1993, after the Bishopsgate bombing and, since the South Quay blast two weeks ago, City police have been manning checkpoints 24 hours a day. Armed police officers have also been on patrol.

The plan would extend the cordon to cover 75 per cent of the City, including Bart's hospital and the Barbican. The Old Bailey, which was the target of an IRA bomb in the early 1970s, will also come into the security zone for the first time.

Its perimeter would run along Farringdon and New Bridge streets in the west, and West Smithfield, Beech and Chiswell streets in the north, with entry points at Queen Victoria Street, Holborn Viaduct, Aldersgate Street, Moorgate, and - for buses, coaches, taxis and bicycles - Ludgate Hill.

Meanwhile, government efforts to get the Northern Ireland peace process back on track suffered a setback during a day of "talks about talks" yesterday, when John Hume, leader of the Nationalist SDLP, emphatically ruled out any plan which included proposals for elections.

John Major and the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, are believed to be discussing the possibility of combining several ideas for breaking the deadlock, including the Unionist plan for Northern Ireland elections to a peace convention, the SDLP idea for a referendum and the Irish proposal for preliminary all-party talks.

Mr Major talked on the telephone to Mr Bruton yesterday, and intends to have a summit meeting with him next week. He also spoke to the US President, Bill Clinton, and a spokeswoman said the President had expressed his "support for the efforts of the British and Irish governments to move through elections to all-party talks". She would not confirm that they discussed the question of a US visa for the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams.

The former US Senator, George Mitchell, who led an international mediation effort, said the question of the renewal of Mr Adams's visa would probably not be decided until next month.