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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Row over 'leisure centre rally'
Hundreds of people attended the meeting in north Belfast
Hundreds of people attended the meeting in north Belfast
The use of a Belfast City Council leisure centre for a meeting about an internal UDA dispute has been defended by Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers.

About 200 people attended the meeting at Ballysillan Leisure Centre in the north of the city on Tuesday.

Mr Rodgers said he believed the meeting in the leisure centre was "a genuine attempt to solve problems in the area".

However, Sinn Fein councillor Margaret McClenaghan claimed the meeting "amounted to a UDA rally".

The Ulster Political Research Group represented the views of the paramilitary organisation's leadership.

They faced angry questions from the audience made up largely of women.

'Genuine attempt'

The meeting was held in response to a standoff between rival Ulster Defence Association factions in the area and talk of a possible loyalist feud breaking out.

Mr Rodgers said: "The last thing we want to see is mayhem on our streets, people losing their lives or being seriously injured.

"If it's going to bring about what we all hope is a peaceful situation, I have absolutely no problem or difficulty with it, but in saying that, I am totally opposed to any paramilitary organisation, be they republican or loyalist."

However, Margaret McClenaghan said leisure centres were "rate-payers' buildings" and should not be used for political meetings

She has demanded "urgent talks" with Belfast City Council's chief executive.

"No matter how you try to dress it up, it was in support of a unionist paramilitary group, namely north Belfast UDA," she said.

Application

"There were a lot of people there from different factions and some explanations need to be given."

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Belfast City Council said an application for hire of facilities at the leisure centre was received on 31 July.

"This application was from a local community residents' group seeking to book a room at the leisure centre for a community consultation meeting at 7pm on the following evening," the spokesperson said.

"The application was granted on this basis as per normal council procedures."

Pastor Jack McKee, who has been involved in the negotiations, said it had been a useful meeting.

On Monday, members of the UDA's so-called ruling inner council held talks with representatives of the break-away faction in north Belfast.

Tensions within the UDA are high following a weekend stand-off between rival factions and a public show of strength by its leadership.

Senior figures held talks with members of the organisation in north Belfast, loyal to Ihab and Andre Shoukri.

They were expelled from the organisation last month.

On Friday night in north Belfast, police seized a shotgun, ammunition and petrol bombs following a stand-off between up to 80 members of rival UDA factions.


SEE ALSO
Hundreds attend UDA 'discussion'
02 Aug 06 |  Northern Ireland
UDA in talks with 'faction group'
31 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
UDA in talks on internal dispute
30 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
Weapons seized in UDA 'stand-off'
29 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
New UDA leadership is appointed
28 Jul 06 |  Northern Ireland
Why UDA expelled 'unlikely loyalists'
21 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland

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