Sinn Fein demonstrates against raids on its offices

Protestants accuse IRA of spying on parliament


BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political wing, held demonstrations yesterday to protest the police raids of its parliamentary offices on Friday, while Protestant hard-liners continued to use the raids to attack Sinn Fein.

The raids on the Sinn Fein offices of the province's power-sharing government came as relations between Protestant unionists, who favor maintaining ties with Britain, and republicans, mostly Catholics who favor closer ties with the Irish Republic, continued to worsen.

Sinn Fein representatives, denouncing the raids as evidence of continued anti-Catholic and anti-republican bias in the police force, organized a series of rallies at six police stations in Belfast and across Northern Ireland yesterday afternoon.

Party officials said the raids had been orchestrated as a news media event, since a convoy of police Land Rovers parked outside the parliament building on Friday morning, and several dozen police officers occupied the office, even though they searched only one desk and took only one armload of files and computer disks. The raids followed an investigation into whether the IRA had infiltrated Britain's provincial headquarters.

If true, the spying would be "worse than Watergate," David Trimble, the province's first minister, told the BBC. Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party has threatened to force the government's collapse through mass resignations if the IRA does not disband by Jan. 18.

"We are saying that we are not prepared to carry on in government with Sinn Fein under these circumstances," Michael McGimpsey, an Ulster Unionist minister, told the BBC.

The four people arrested on Friday, including Sinn Fein's administrative chief in the Northern Ireland Assembly and a former office messenger, were being held for questioning yesterday.

Officials say that the former messenger is suspected of photocopying correspondence in the office of Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, and passing the copies on to Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Along with the increasing acrimony on both sides, a man was shot dead in a quiet residential neighborhood just before midnight Friday, and officials said yesterday that they feared it could signal a growing feud between Protestant paramilitary groups over control of drug-dealing and other criminal activity.

Geoffrey Thomas Gray, 41, was shot in the chest by a man who escaped on foot, the police said.

Hard-liners on both sides have been gaining support in Northern Ireland.

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