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Sunday, 26 March, 2000, 22:20 GMT
Vigil before Bloody Sunday inquiry
Torchlit procession
Torchlit procession on eve of Bloody Sunday inquiry
Thousands of marchers have staged a candlelit march in Londonderry on the eve of a public inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings.

The demonstrators staged a silent march as a mark of respect for the 14 men who died when British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights parade which had been declared illegal on 30 January, 1972.

The circumstances of the killings, in Londonderry's Bogside district, have been bitterly contested ever since.

Lord Widgery
Lord Widgery's inquiry was denounced as a whitewash
The families of the dead men have campaigned for more than 25 years for a re-examination of the evidence.

The first inquiry headed by Lord Widgery, which sat immediately after Bloody Sunday, was denounced as a whitewash by nationalists after it exonerated the British army soldiers of any criminal wrongdoing.

The British Government set up a new inquiry two years ago headed by a British judge Lord Saville.

He is assisted by two overseas judges, Sir Edward Somers from New Zealand and William Hoyt from Canada.

The new inquiry has already taken evidence from 1,400 people including eyewitnesses, journalists, police officers, soldiers and government officials, at a cost of 15m.

Forensic and post-mortem evidence will be re-examined and the latest computer technology will be used to try to recreate the sequence of events.

Jack Duddy
Jack Duddy: The first to die on Bloody Sunday
Interest in the public hearings is intense, with a link-up of proceedings to be broadcast live in Londonderry's 900-seat Rialto Theatre.

Londonderry Guildhall has been transformed into one of the world's most high-tech courtrooms and it is predicted the cost of the inquiry could rise to 100m.

A nephew of Jack Duddy, who was the first to die on Bloody Sunday, called for the findings of the original inquiry to be repudiated by the new hearings.

"The British Government established the Bloody Sunday inquiry because they were obliged to by the families, the people of Derry, Ireland and the international human rights community," he told the marchers.

"We have come this far. We have some distance still to go."

Veteran Londonderry journalist, Eamon McCann, a relative of one of the dead, said everything was in place for the truth to be discovered.

"All that remains to be discovered is whether the will exists to seek out the truth and to lay it out for the world to see," he said.

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