Sinn Fein members arrested after raids

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Seven people were arrested in RUC raids in republican areas of Londonderry yesterday, with scuffles breaking out between police and Sinn Fein supporters.

Sinn Fein said two of those arrested are prominent members of its party, councillor Mary Nelis and executive member Dodie McGuinness. During the street tussles, a man was arrested and has been charged with disorderly behaviour and assaulting a police officer.

Although the incidents were minor by previous Northern Ireland standards, they represented an unusually bitter clash between police and republicans. Both are members of the Sinn Fein delegation to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin.

Six people were arrested following house searches in Londonderry and the nearby town of Strabane. The street disturbances arose as police staged a search of Sinn Fein offices in the Bogside district of Londonderry.

A police account of the incidents gave no indication of why the six people were wanted for questioning. As the Sinn Fein offices were being searched, there were scuffles, and some demonstrators attempted to overturn police landrovers by rocking them from side to side.

An RUC spokesman said a number of items had been taken away for examination.

Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein claimed the arrests were part of "an on-going campaign of harassment by the RUC" and a policy of appeasement "designed to assuage Unionist fears before the publication of the framework document".

Irish Fianna Fail opposition party leader Bertie Ahern demanded the release of Mrs Nelis and Mrs McGuinness. In a strongly-worded statement, Mr Ahern yesterday called the arrests "a provocative and grossly irresponsible action just two days in advance of the framework document".