Security scares rock Belfast

2009-03-31 12:04

Belfast - Northern Ireland police reported a string of bomb scares and hijackings in Belfast overnight on Tuesday blamed by local politicians on dissidents linked to the killings of two soldiers and a policeman.

A series of abandoned and burning vehicles caused security alerts, while several police stations were closed because of bomb scares and a hotel next to the Stormont Parliament was evacuated, police said. There were also a series of hijackings.

The BBC reported that 350 children at a primary school in Belfast were sent home on Tuesday after a suspicious object was found nearby.

Local politicians blamed the disruption on dissident republicans who wanted to flex their muscles after the shooting of two British soldiers at an army barracks and a police officer within 48 hours of each other this month.

Those killings were the first of their kind for roughly a decade and threatened to disrupt the peace that has reigned in Northern Ireland since a 1998 peace accord which largely ended 30 years of civil unrest.

"The criminal terrorists responsible for the series of bomb scares and hijackings are beneath contempt and have no support whatsoever in the community," said Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson.

"In recent weeks, Northern Ireland has sent these murderers the message loud and clear. We will not be dragged back into death and mayhem."

The scares were also condemned by the main republican party, Sinn Fein, which is part of Northern Ireland's devolved government and has also spoken out against the killings.

"I would like the spokespeople of those behind these alerts to come forward and explain how this will in any way achieve a united Ireland," said Sinn Fein lawmaker Caral Ni Chuilin, referring to the party's main goal.

Experts said the scares marked a return to tactics used during the three decades of civil unrest known as the Troubles by republicans wanting to disrupt the British province's economy.

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