Police officer shot dead in Northern Ireland

BELFAST, (Reuters) – A police officer was shot dead  in Northern Ireland late yesterday, just hours after Prime  Minister Gordon Brown said the killing of two British soldiers  would not derail the peace process.

The officer was shot dead when he was out on patrol in  Craigavon, around 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the Northern  Ireland capital Belfast, a police spokeswoman said.

There was no immediate word on whether the policeman was  killed by Republican dissidents, following the shooting on  Saturday of the two soldiers by gunmen opposed to the peace  process in the British-ruled province.

But a senior politician said the police officer was likely  to have been killed by dissident Republicans.
“We are tonight staring into the abyss and I would appeal to  people to pull back,” said Dolores Kelly, a member of Northern  Ireland’s policing board, and a member of the nationalist SDLP  party.

Brown, visiting the army base in Antrim where the two  soldiers died, said yesterday “the political process will not  and can never be shaken”.

There are no plans to put troops back onto the streets of  Northern Ireland, a senior British army officer said, as leaders  tried to ensure that shooting of the soldiers did not reverse  progress made since the Good Friday peace deal in 1998.

The soldiers were shot dead by gunmen from the Real IRA  republican splinter group, hours before they were due to fly to  Afghanistan.

The IRA, which fought British rule for decades and drew  support from the minority Roman Catholic community, and  pro-British Protestant guerrilla groups agreed to ceasefires  under the 1998 deal.

The agreement helped to greatly reduce sectarian violence,  which had killed more than 3,600 people in Northern Ireland  since the late 1960s.

The Real IRA wants an end to British rule and a united  Ireland, but is shunned by the province’s politicians who have  put aside years of enmity to work together in a devolved  national assembly.

The Real IRA carried out the deadliest single bombing of the  sectarian violence, in the market town of Omagh in August 1998.  Twenty-nine people were killed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward described  Saturday’s attack as a “pre-meditated attempt at mass murder”,  saying two masked gunmen had fired more than 60 shots.

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