Man shot dead in Belfast

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The Independent Online

A man was gunned down in Belfast tonight, the seventh victim of a suspected loyalist feud in recent days.

A man was gunned down in Belfast tonight, the seventh victim of a suspected loyalist feud in recent days.

He was shot dead in Ballyronan Park, Newtownabbey, on the northern outskirts of the city, at 6.30pm.

The shooting came hours after a policeman lost a leg in a bomb attack.

He was blown up after lifting a traffic cone with a bomb hidden underneath it outside the Castlewellan RUC station in County Down.

Locals say the latest victim was aged in his 20s and connected to the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force.

Earlier, troops moved on to the streets of Belfast to try to end the killings, which are being blamed on rivalry between loyalist factions.

No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on the RUC station, but First Minister David Trimble said local police chiefs had recently warned about increased activity among dissident republican paramilitaries, the Real IRA, which carried out the Omagh bombing.

He said: "There was a warning from the local superintendent some weeks ago about Real IRA activity there.

"It's a reminder to us that there is still a significant terrorist threat and consequently anything that is done with regard to changes in policing has to be looked at very carefully to make sure that the capability and effectiveness of the RUC is not in any way diminished."

Politicians on all sides condemned the bombing.

Nationalist SDLP MP Eddie McGrady said: "I'm greatly dismayed by this attack. I'm dreadfully concerned this is the commencement of future terrorist attacks, no doubt to destabilise the political situation."

South Down Ulster Unionist Assemblyman Dermot Nesbitt said it was a despicable attempt to strike fear into the local community.

"If anything, this morning's events provide us with even more reason to address the issue of decommissioning," he said.

Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen said the incident was a "cowardly and evil act" designed to bring about death and injury and more misery to families in Northern Ireland.

He added: "It was also an attack on the democratic process at a time when representative politicians are striving to reach accommodation on the way forward.

"The timing of the attack is sinister and will contribute nothing to resolving any outstanding issues.

"The people who planned and carried it out are working against the wishes of the Irish people. They cannot be allowed to succeed - and will not."

RUC Chief Inspector William Dorman said: "This is a totally reckless, unwarranted attack, not only against my officers but the community as a whole.

"The officers had returned to the station for a short, well-earned break after an extremely busy Hallowe'en night when the attack took place."

In Belfast troops went on patrol in a bid to calm a Protestant paramilitary fued which saw two men shot dead yesterday.

It took to six the number killed in loyalist areas of north and west Belfast where gunmen belonging to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) have been involved in vicious fighting.

Tommy English, 39, was assassinated in front of his wife at Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, 12 hours after 63-year-old Bertie Rice was gunned down, also in front of his wife.

Mr English was hit as he lay on a sofa as his wife tried to restrain a masked gang who burst into their home at Ballyfore Gardens in the Ballyduff area of Newtownabbey.

She was assaulted as a gunman opened fire, hitting his victim three times.

Mr Rice, gunned down at yesterday lunchtime at his home off York Road, worked in the constituency office of North Belfast Assemblyman Billy Hutchinson, a member of the Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the UVF.

The UDA was blamed for the killing, in retaliation for the murder of UDA man David Greer, 21, who was shot dead in north Belfast on Saturday night.

Last night, the UVF was accused of retaliating for Mr Rice's death.

The two sides had declared an unofficial ceasefire earlier this month after a series of shootings which left three men dead, but the fighting erupted again with the murder of Mr Greer.

Mr English was an ex-member of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), the UDA's political wing, who was involved in the early stages of the Northern Ireland peace talks more than five years ago.

At one stage he met US President Bill Clinton, but according to party officials resigned a year ago.

UDP chairman John White said: "I despair. There is no doubt this was a revenge shooting. It seems to me that the UVF is out of control. The rank and file has clearly lost confidence in it's leadership. I honest don't know where this will end."

The latest killings were condemned by an anti-Good Friday Agreement Unionist Assemblyman.

Northern Ireland Unionist MLA Norman Boyd said: "These shootings must stop now.

"The Protestant community wants an end to this futile violence which only creates heartache and misery for the whole community.

"The feud among loyalists must also end now. The Protestant community deserves and desires to live in peace free from fear and violence."