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4 December 1997 Edition

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RUC attacks Saoirse rally

by Laura Friel

A 73 year-old pensioner and a mother with her 1 year-old child were amongst a dozen people attacked by baton-wielding RUC members during a Saoirse rally in Cookstown, County Tyrone at the weekend.

One person's wrist was broken, a bone in his leg was broken and his clothes torn from his body, as he was batoned and kicked by a gang of RUC men. A second person's finger was broken as the RUC seized his camera and destroyed film taken during the RUC assault.

The attack happened on Saturday evening as around fifty people gathered outside Cookstown's RIR base for a rally calling for the release of all political prisoners. Peaceful protesters were batoned as they attempted to assist a young man, Mark McKeever, being brutally attacked by a gang of RUC officers. ``He was calling out for help,'' said one eyewitness, ``four or five RUC men were batoning and kicking him.''

The assault began when the RUC moved in to take a camera from a man taking photographs.

During the vicious RUC attack, McKeever's jumper and shirt were ripped off, leaving him stripped to the waist. They were still beating him as he lay on the ground. Mark's wrist and a bone in his leg were broken. He was arrested and, with a second man, charged with assault by the RUC.

Local Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Begley described the RUC behaviour as ``appalling'' and said the attack on peaceful protesters was an ``open assault on the nationalist people of Cookstown''.

``The RUC not only launched a brutal attack on people gathered for a peaceful Christmas rally, they also attempted a cover-up by destroying photographic evidence of their actions,'' he said.

In February of this year Mark McKeever rejected an RUC approach to supply information on republicans. Since then he has been constantly harassed.
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