Thousands attend peace vigils after murders

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Thousands of people today took part in silent vigils held across Northern Ireland in a poignant demonstration against the return of violence.

At 1pm crowds gathered outside Belfast City Hall, Londonderry Guildhall and Newry Town Hall in demonstrations organised by trade unions.

Community leaders and politicians asked the public to show its abhorrence at the killings of police constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh, on Monday night and soldiers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, shot dead at Massereene Army barracks in Antrim on Saturday night.

This came as the Pope today denounced the murder of the three security force members as "abominable acts of terrorism".

Benedict XVI decried the shootings by dissident republicans during an address to pilgrims in St Peter's Square in Vatican City.

He said the shootings seriously endangered the political process aimed at achieving peace and justice.

A Peace Book was opened in Derry Guildhall by the Mayor Gerard Diver for people to register their revulsion.

Meanwhile, police continued to question a 37-year-old man and 17-year-old youth about the murder of Constable Carroll.

They were arrested yesterday as police carried out searches in the Drumbeg estate which overlooked the small residential cul-de-sac where he died while answering a call from a distraught woman who had a brick thrown through her window.

Searches in the estate bedecked with Continuity IRA (CIRA) graffiti continued today.

And floral tributes to Constable Carroll continued to build up at the spot where he was shot in a murder claimed by the CIRA - including one from the mother of a teenager murdered nearly a decade ago.

Ann Robb made the short journey from her home in Portadown to remember the policeman with a bunch of white spring flowers.

The mutilated body of her 19-year-old son Andrew and his friend David Robb, 19, were found on a Co Armagh country road near Tandragee in February 2000. They had been repeatedly beaten and stabbed.

No-one ever claimed responsibility but the murders were widely believed to have been as a result of a feud between the loyalist paramilitary UVF and LVF groups.

A poignant message attached to Mrs Robb's flowers said: "With sincere and heartfelt sympathy. So sorry at the loss of another innocent life tragically taken by cowardly scum."

It was signed: "From a Portadown family who know the pain and suffering you are going through. God Bless."

Several thousand gathered at Belfast City Hall for one of the trade union-organised rallies where Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, applauded the public's desire to send a strong message against violence.

"This lunchtime thousands of citizens are gathering to collectively share moments of silence," he said.

"The trade union movement stands together with all citizens in solidarity to prevent any derailment of the peace process.

"The callous attacks of the past few days were an assault on every citizen who supports peace.

"Here in Belfast, and in Newry, and in Londonderry, and at spontaneous gatherings across our land, workers and their families are making clear their abhorrence at these murders and the direct threat to the peace process."