Many Catholic bars in south Belfast were almost deserted last night after the Irish National Liberation Army killing of a shopkeeper with links to the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.
In what appeared to be a reprisal, a Catholic man was taken to hospital with serious injuries last night after he was shot several times in a taxi office in Ormeau Road, south Belfast.
The shootings took place as the Government was seeking to calm and steady the peace process after recent turmoil, with Tony Blair meeting Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Downing Street to hear their criticisms of the direction of political talks.
Mr Blair was told by the delegation that the situation in Ulster was "grave", while the Prime Minister insisted that the peace process would not be derailed by the latest in a series of sectarian murders.
Back in Northern Ireland, the Stormont multi-party talks, which were supposed to get down to business on a detailed agenda, were adjourned for a time when news of the shooting came through. The man killed, Jim Guiney, was a family friend of Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic party, which is the political wing of the UDA. He was married with four children.
Those involved in the talks now face the task of carrying on vital negotiations at a time when the din of war is all too audible from the streets outside. There is also a high possibility of violent UDA retaliation for the killing, which would then be followed by calls for the expulsion of the UDP from the talks.
Mr Guiney was at work in his small carpet shop at Dunmurry in south Belfast when a number of INLA gunmen entered and shot him several times. They ran off to make their getaway in a car later found burning in a republican area of west Belfast.
The INLA was responsible for last month's killing of leading loyalist Billy Wright inside the Maze prison. Four Catholics have been killed in retaliation since then. Security had already been stepped up as the cycle of killings continued, and will now be reviewed again.
The INLA does not regard itself as being on ceasefire and is against the present peace process. It would regard the collapse of the talks as a victory.
Mr McMichael said last night: "What we have here is a bunch of lunatics in the INLA who are trying to bring our entire society back into war again. I don't think that any of us are safe. There are people out there who are hell-bent on bringing further violence. Except for keeping our wits about us there is very little we can actually do."
In the early hours of Sunday morning the Loyalist Volunteer Force shot dead Fergal McCusker, a Catholic man on his way home from a night out. The killings have created an atmosphere of tension at a time when from a republican point of view the talks have not been going well.
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