Bombing of loyalist parade foiled

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The Independent Online

Ominous rustlings were evident in both sections of Northern Ireland's paramilitary undergrowth yesterday when security forces foiled a bomb attack in one incident and were shot at in another, as both loyalist and republican splinter groups stepped up activity in the two major cities.

Ominous rustlings were evident in both sections of Northern Ireland's paramilitary undergrowth yesterday when security forces foiled a bomb attack in one incident and were shot at in another, as both loyalist and republican splinter groups stepped up activity in the two major cities.

In Londonderry, the security forces succeeded in averting an attempt by fringe republicans, probably belonging to the so-called Real IRA, to stage a highly provocative bombing attack in the run-up to today's major loyalist parade in the city.

The driver of a van containing 500lb of home-made explosives crashed through an Royal Ulster Constabulary checkpoint in the city on Thursday night, sparking off a high-speed chase. He escaped over the border into the Irish Republic, where army experts dealt with the explosives, which were packed into two milk churns.

An RUC spokesman said: "We have prevented a major bomb attack that could well have cost lives and caused massive damage to property." A spokesman for the Irish police described the incident as a worrying development, saying that transporting 500lb of explosives in a city area was "a heinous act".

In a reference to the bomb that two years ago claimed 29 lives, a local loyalist, Gregory Campbell, said: "This could have been another Omagh."

Today's march, which annually brings tens of thousands of members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry on to the streets, has been the subject of an almost unprecedented agreement between the loyalists and Catholics in the city.

Many weeks of talks have resulted in an understanding between the two sides, with the loyalists meeting the concerns of nationalists, who in turn have said that they will not oppose the march.

Although this understanding has led to a relaxed atmosphere in the city, tensions are higher in Belfast where the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the largest of the loyalist paramilitary groups, fired at police.

The RUC interrupted a show of strength, in which members of the UDA were displaying weapons in the Protestant Shankill Road district. Fleeing loyalists fired at least one shot at police officers and a breeze block was thrown through the window of a police vehicle.

The UDA, using its alternative name of Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), later announced that it was reinstating its threat to resort to gun attacks on nationalists in the event of attacks on Protestant homes in the traditionally troublesome north Belfast area.

In recent nights, both Catholic and Protestant homes have come under attack from youths flinging paint bombs and other missiles. John White, a UDA spokesman, indicated that the organisation regarded the threat not as a declaration of war but as a localised affair.

He said: "The UFF ceasefire is intact. What happened recently was a response to demands from people in the area for protection."

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