Source AP ©

IRA dissidents blamed for shooting police officers

An off-duty Northern Ireland policeman was shot and wounded, the second shooting of an officer in recent days to be blamed on IRA dissidents.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said the officer was hospitalized in stable condition after a bullet struck his arm in Dungannon, a religiously polarized town in the center of the British territory. The attack happened as the policeman had stopped at traffic lights beside a Catholic Church.

No group claimed responsibility. But police and politicians accused Irish Republican Army dissidents, who reject Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord and the IRA's 2005 decisions to renounce violence and disarm.

IRA dissidents also were blamed for the shooting Thursday of an off-duty police officer in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city. Before that, the dissidents had not shot any police officers since 2001.

Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party that represents most of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, said the dissidents were trying to undermine Sinn Fein's decision this year to begin cooperating with the predominantly Protestant police.

"These people are attempting to plunge our society back into conflict," said Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, who is the senior Catholic in Northern Ireland's 6-month-old coalition government with Protestants. "I am confident that the vast majority of people here will ensure that this does not happen."

Protestant leaders called on Catholics to help police identify and arrest IRA dissidents, who live in working-class Catholic areas.

"The time has come for the police to crush these dissident groups," said the Rev. William McCrea, a lawmaker from the major Protestant-backed party, the Democratic Unionists.

The IRA killed about 1,775 people, including nearly 300 police officers, during its failed 1970-97 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. The Good Friday peace accord of 1998 reaffirmed that Northern Ireland would remain British territory as long as most of its residents favor this.

IRA dissidents hostile to the peace process pushed hard in 1998 to destabilize the Good Friday pact, detonating a string of car bombs in town centers - and killing 29 people in one blast in Omagh, the deadliest terror strike in Northern Ireland's history.

The dissidents resumed lower-level violence in 2000, but since have killed just one person, a Protestant construction worker on a British army base in 2002.

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