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Violence flares at army post protest

From The Irish News - October 29th 2001

By Jacqueline McIntyre

REPUBLICAN protesters have clashed with police during an attempt to breach security fencing at an army watchtower in south Armagh.

The demonstration, at Glassdrumman base near Crossmaglen yesterday, was organised by Sinn Féin's youth wing, Ogra Shinn Fein.

According to republicans, it marks the first in a series of such protests objecting to the pace of demilitarisation in the area.

However, SDLP MLA John Fee warned that the move was "totally self-defeating" and Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said it was "extremely unhelpful" in the current political climate.

Police in riot gear faced more than 100 protesters yesterday morning as they marched to the hilltop observation post.

Missiles, including stones, bottles and fireworks, were launched at the RUC and angle grinders were used in a bid to cut down security cameras.

Helicopters brought army reinforcements from other watchtowers in the area and attempts were made at several points around the perimeter fence to breach the barbed wire fences.

Three army watchtowers are being removed from the area as part of a rolling programme to scale down the military presence in response to IRA decommissioning.

But republicans who staged yesterday's demonstration branded the latest moves on demilitarisation "an insult" to the people of south Armagh.

Toni Carragher, of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Group, was one of those taking part in the protest which she said marked the start of a concerted campaign.

"We were there to show our support for Ogra Shinn Fein and to show our anger and disgust at the paltry proposals from the British government on demilitarisation" Mrs Carragher said.

However, RUC chief inspector Bob Cargin hit out at those behind the attacks and pledged to carry out a full investigation into the events. "The behaviour of the protesters today was disgraceful" he said.

"Police and army were attacked with rocks, boulders and metal spikes, resulting in injury to six police officers, one of whom required hospitalisation."

Last night, SDLP assembly member John Fee said the protest would not serve any useful purpose.

"The problem with this type of thing is that while it may be very localised, the message it sends out from the republican movement is extraordinarily damaging. I think the republican leadership are going to have to think very carefully about whether they are going to continue this campaign."

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said the protest was "clearly a highly-organised stunt guaranteed to raise tensions".

Mr Kennedy added: "We have been told Sinn Féin's youth wing organised this event." "I think the Sinn Féin leadership has a responsibility to ensure that people are not getting involved in this type of demonstration."

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