Soldier shot dead in IRA ambush

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A SOLDIER was killed and another injured in two separate shooting incidents in Northern Ireland last night as the IRA continued its attacks in the wake of yesterday's major bomb attacks on Belfast city centre.

The soldier who died was hit when a number of shots were fired at a joint RUC-army foot patrol at Stratheden Street, in the republican New Lodge area of north Belfast. One report said automatic weapons had been used. The victim was the 53rd person to die violently in Ulster this year.

In another incident at Pomeroy, Co Tyrone, a soldier was hit when a foot patrol came under fire. He was taken to hospital but was not seriously hurt.

Damage estimated at up to pounds 3m was caused to one of Belfast's main commercial streets by two large IRA car bombs which exploded early yesterday.

The devices, one of which had been intended as a boobytrap for the security forces, damaged buildings which had not yet been fully repaired after a similar attack in January. Twenty-one people were hurt in the explosions, though their injuries were described as minor.

The attacks, which followed a lull in bombings for some months, restarted the perennial debate on how to deal with IRA car bombs. The authorities are clearly reluctant to revert to 24-hour checkpoints that cause serious disruption to life in the city.

A warning had been given for the first bomb but the second, 20 minutes later, went off without warning. Both had been placed in Bedford Street, close to the city centre.

The damaged buildings included a theatre, a restaurant and a charity headquarters, but premises over a wide area were affected by the bombs, which each contained up to 200lb (90kg) of explosives.

In Bryson House, a charity which helps under-privileged people, furniture and fittings which had been replaced after the January attack were damaged or destroyed and ceilings collapsed.

After bombings at the turn of the year, the security forces set up checkpoints on roads into the city centre, but in recent months these have been relaxed.

The IRA yesterday said it had planted firebombs last week in Milton Keynes, and accused the police of ignoring IRA bomb warnings. Police said last night that no warnings had been received.