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10 December 1998 Edition

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RUC attack protesters

Sinn Fein in Belfast has stepped up the street campaign for the Disbandment of the RUC with a series of protests. Starting last Friday and continuing throughout the week they mark an increasing impatience among nationalists for radical change in the nature of policing.

Last Friday a group of Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein Youth activists chained themselves to the gates of Queen Street RUC Barracks in the centre of Belfast. RUC business was severely disrupted.

On Saturday pickets were held across Belfast, at Andersonstown, Antrim Rd and the Short Strand from 1-2pm. Crowds of local activists called for the RUC's disbandment. A second series of protests are planned for Saturday 19 December at the same time.

On Tuesday a large crowd of republicans picketed the new RUC ``Information Centre'' opened in Castle Court shopping centre the same morning. RUC officers physically attacked and verbally insulted protesters. One man from north Belfast was arrested and taken to Musgrave St RUC Barracks.

During the protest Sinn Fein Councillor Marie Moore and one of the protesters met with Castle Court management who said that as private tenants the RUC had the right to open the ``shop' if they wanted. In addition the management stated that increasing levels of theft in the centre necessitated a new RUC base.

Councillor Moore told Castle Court that over the years the RUC turned a blind eye to petty criminals in return for services as paid informants, a situation which continues eight months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. ``The only impact of the RUC base will be to turn nationalist shoppers away from Castle Court to shop elsewhere''.

Following an impromptu meeting with Belfast Lord Mayor David Alderdice, the protesters dispersed, promising to return the following morning. An emergency meeting with Alderdice was scheduled to take place later on Tuesday.

SF Councillor Michael Brown said after the protest that ``today's events show clearly why the RUC must be disbanded. Peaceful protesters were attacked by the RUC, one man was arrested, and what was meant to be a dignified and non-confrontational protest was turned into a very ulgy situation''.

On Wednesday morning a second picket was held outside the new barracks. Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly, who attended the protest, said: ``The base is intimidating to nationalist shoppers and makes it difficult for many people to shop in comfort and safety. We are calling for the barracks closure and for Castle Court manager Alex Bell to withdraw their tenancy as a matter of urgency''.

Sinn Fein will hold a third protest on Thursday morning (today) at the office of manager Alex Bell.

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