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Wednesday, January 7, 1998 Published at 17:58 GMT


Authorities try to defuse N Ireland tensions
image: [ Three controlled explosions were carried out on a suspect car ]
Three controlled explosions were carried out on a suspect car

The British government has condemned an attempted car bombing at Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland as a "vile attack". No organisation has admitted planting the device which was safely defused.

On Wednesday morning, the Irish Republic's Foreign Minister held talks with the Progressive Unionist Party, which attracts its support mainly from Protestants and campaigns for the maintenance of the union between Britain and Northern Ireland, to try to allay its fears about the talks process.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, was due to meet Gary McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party in London later in the day on a similar mission.

The BBC's Dermot Wynne reports from Banbridge (Dur: 40")
The Royal Ulster Constabulary confirmed that 300lbs (140 kilos) of explosives were found in a car in the town of Banbridge, County Down following a security alert.

A caller to a local radio station in Drogheda in the Irish Republic warned that a bomb had been left in Banbridge. A codeword, which authenticated the threat, was given.

Security forces carried out three controlled explosions on a suspect car in the Newry Street area of Banbridge and people were evacuated from bars and other buildings.

Bomb injures peace process

Despite the RUC's success in detonating the bomb, its very existence symbolises the rising tension throughout Ulster.

Sectarian violence, sparked by the murder of Protestant paramilitary Billy Wright in the Maze prison two weeks ago, is threatening to derail the peace talks.

On Tuesday, Protestant politicians failed to persuade paramilitaries in the Maze prison to back talks. They complain that the Government is favouring Catholics, granting more concessions to Republican prisoners than to Protestant paramilitaries.

[ image: Martin McGuinness supports the release of Loyalist prisoners]
Martin McGuinness supports the release of Loyalist prisoners
Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, told BBC Breakfast News that he too was "disappointed" that the British Government had not released Protestant prisoners at Christmas.

"I believe they have some cause for complaint. I hope that the British Government will be as imaginative as the Irish government has been in releasing prisoners prior to Christmas. I think that would be a major benefit to the process."

Maritn McGuinness talks to BBC Breakfast News (Dur: 2')
But Mr McGuinness also emphasised that the crumbling peace talks were not due to the incarceration of paramilitaries but because Protestants are hostile to the peace process.

[ image: Gary McMichael:  The peace process is crumbling]
Gary McMichael: The peace process is crumbling
The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam's meeting with Gary McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party is seen as critical. She will ask him to persuade Protestant paramilitary prisoners at the Maze to back their political representatives at the negotiations.

The prisoners' refusal to pledge their support could have serious repercussions.

Mr McMichael said: "Our position at the moment is quite precarious. Obviously, there must be concern that if we don't get a grip of this situation and pull it back, there has to be implications for the ceasefire."

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