Britain says sorry for N.Ireland's Bloody Sunday killings

15th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised Tuesday for the Bloody Sunday killings, one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland's history, calling them "unjustified and unjustifiable."

As a long-awaited report into the shootings of 13 civilians by British troops on January 30, 1972 was published, he said none of the victims were armed and soldiers had given no warning before opening fire.

"There is no doubt .. what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong," he told the House of Commons in London, adding: "On behalf of the government .... I am deeply sorry."

Publication of the report was greeted with cheers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city, where relatives of those who died joined thousands waiting to see the contents of the 5,000-page report.

The killings, when British soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Londonderry, was one of the most controversial in Northern Ireland's history, and there had been fears the report could re-open wounds.

More than 3,500 people died during The Troubles, which were largely ended by a 1998 peace deal, but emotions still run high in Northern Ireland over its violent history, which pitched Catholics against Protestants.

The inquiry, which took 12 years to report at a cost of more than 190 million pounds (275 million dollars, 230 million euros), aimed to paint a full picture of events.

It was commissioned by then premier Tony Blair in 1998, after a 1972 probe which they dismiss as a whitewash.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was second in command for Catholic militant group the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Londonderry at the time, insisted the report would not lead to fresh divisions.

"My hope has to be that this is a very clear exposition of the terrible deed that was committed by the British state and the British armed forces on that day," the Sinn Fein politician told AFP before the report's publication.

"And also that that feeds into the need to ensure that we never, never again see, in any community, acts of violence such as this."

The mainly Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose leader Peter Robinson is Northern Ireland's first minister, has been critical of the inquiry, saying it has created a "hierarchy of victims" in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst Lord Saville was investigating Bloody Sunday, there are thousands of other victims who have seen their cases virtually ignored," said local DUP lawmaker Gregory Campbell.

"There were over 3,500 people killed during what we call the Troubles and there are hundreds of unsolved cases right across the province, yet we see hundreds of millions of pounds spent investigating less than two dozen of those deaths."

Before the report was published, around 60 relatives and campaigners held a symbolic gathering in Londonderry -- known as Derry to Catholics -- to complete the march halted by the killings, while a public parade was also scheduled.

The inquiry, headed by senior judge Mark Saville, was called by former prime minister Tony Blair's Labour government in 1998 as Northern Ireland's peace process built momentum.

It heard from more than 900 witnesses and received statements from around 2,500 people. The evidence ran to an estimated 20-30 million words.

It is the longest-running and most expensive public inquiry in British history.

© 2010 AFP

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