Northern Ireland bids a moving farewell to shot policeman

Northern Ireland bids a moving farewell to shot policemanLondon - Northern Ireland bid a moving farewell to the police officer shot dead by suspected terrorists in a church service attended Friday by leading representatives of Sinn Fein, the party once closely linked to paramilitary terrorism in the province.

Police constable Stephen Carroll, a Catholic, was the first police officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland since 1998. His death also marked the first loss of an officer belonging to the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), formed in 2001.

The new force, controlled jointly by Catholics and Protestants, succeeded the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which had been discredited for its alleged anti-Catholic bias during the 30 years of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland.

During his 21 years as a police officer, Carroll served in both.

Northern Ireland's police chief, Hugh Orde, Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward and Ireland's Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, were among the mourners.

The county town of Banbridge, south of Belfast, came to a standstill as the funeral procession, led by his widow, Kate, passed hundreds of local people who had come out to line the streets as shops remained closed as a mark of respect.

Carroll, 48, was shot in the head by gunmen on a housing estate in the town of Craigavon Monday evening, just 48 hours after the murder of two British soldiers near Belfast marked a chilling return of terrorism to Northern Ireland after more than a decade of peace.

Two separate dissident terrorist groups who split from the now disbanded Irish Republican Army (IRA) have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

However, in a strong sign of how much things have changed in Northern Ireland since the 1998 peace agreement, Carroll's funeral was attended by two local representatives of Sinn Fein, the party once closely linked to the IRA and now in government in Northern Ireland.

"We have built a new society... and constable Carroll was part of that new society," said John O'Dowd, the local Sinn Fein representative, at the service.

The recent murders have sparked universal condemnation across the political and religious divide in Northern Ireland and brought out thousands of people for peace rallies Thursday.

Two men, aged 17, and 37, are being questioned over the policeman's murder. On Friday evening a third suspect - a man in his mid-20s - was arrested, police said.

The two British soldiers who died in the attack outside Massereene barracks in county Antrim, north of Belfast, will be buried next week.

They had been due to go on deployment in Afghanistan when they were shot taking a pizza delivery at the barrack gate last Saturday. (dpa)

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