Bombing of Protestant town deals blow to peace talks

PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland (AP) — A powerful car bomb devastated the center of Northern Ireland’s most fiercely Protestant town Monday, fueling sectarian hatred at a critical time in peace negotiations.
Police received telephone warnings in time to evacuate downtown Portadown minutes before the bomb went off, leveling two buildings, starting a fire in another and damaging roofs and windows across town. There were no injuries.
The attack came about an hour after negotiations resumed in Belfast without the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, which was newly excluded because of two recent killings blamed on the Irish Republican Army. Sinn Fein is to be readmitted into the talks March 9, barring more accusations of violence.
No group claimed responsibility for the bomb. Police said they suspected a shadowy group of anti-British extremists who oppose the IRA’s 7-month-old truce and call themselves Continuity IRA.
Protestant leaders blamed the IRA itself, arguing it uses fictional cover names when it doesn’t want to acknowledge an attack that might damage the IRA politically. They also blame the IRA for a car bomb on Friday that injured 11 people in Moira, another mainly Protestant town.
Earlier Monday, Irish soldiers dismantled another car bomb left outside a police station near the Irish Republic’s border with Northern Ireland. The Loyalist Volunteers, a paramilitary Protestant extremist group, later claimed they planted the bomb in retaliation for the Moira attack.