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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Derry protest over plastic bullets
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
Campaigners against a new plastic bullet which is to be issued to the RUC on Friday have held a protest in Londonderry.

At the rally at Guildhall Square on Thursday evening the organisers read out the names of the 17 people killed by plastic bullets during disturbances in Northern Ireland.

The government has said the new baton rounds which are being issued to the police and army in both Britain and Northern Ireland are "more accurate and less lethal".

But campaigners at the rally said the new device is more lethal than the one it is to replace.

Announcing the new plastic bullets in April, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said a study by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council found the new round is lighter, faster and made from more robust material.

He said it concluded that the new rounds were "on balance a great deal safer than the existing one".

'Alternative to firearms'

The baton rounds are to be used in situations where they would otherwise be forced to use firearms, he added.

However, members of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets who have seen the study, have said it found there was a greater chance of a round which strikes the head being lodged in the skull.

Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora died after being hit by a plastic bullet in 1981, said the report concluded the new rounds were more dangerous than the existing design.

Chris Patten's Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Northern Ireland said there should be investment in research into finding an acceptable, less dangerous, alternative to the present baton round.

Its report is the basis of legislation which is shaping the province's new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

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