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Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ in brief

BELFAST, North Ireland: Northern Ireland was torn apart by three decades of violence between republican and unionist communities that ended with the Good Friday Agreement signed 20 years ago.

The province’s majority Protestant unionists favoured continued British rule. Catholic republicans wanted reunification with the rest of Ireland and more civil rights.

Here is an overview of “The Troubles” in which more than 3,500 people were killed.

A British soldier drags a Catholic protester during Northern Ireland’s “Bloody Sunday” killings on January 30, 1972.

Trouble starts

Violence erupts in 1968 when police use force against a peaceful Catholic civil rights demonstration in Londonderry, the province’s only Catholic-majority town.

The situation degenerates as Catholic meetings and demonstrations end in clashes with the police and Protestants.

In August 1969 violence inflames Londonderry and Belfast, and British troops are deployed.

IRA steps in

In 1970 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), a guerrilla group, begins a campaign of bombings and shootings on the troops.

British embassy in Dublin in flames after a February 1972 petrol bomb attack in response to the “Bloody Sunday” killings.

The violence is reciprocated by unionist paramilitary groups, driving a wedge between the communities.

Tensions rise in January 1972 after 14 people are killed on “Bloody Sunday”, when British soldiers open fire on a peaceful Catholic civil rights march in Londonderry.

Direct rule

London suspends the Northern Ireland provincial government in March, leading to decades of direct rule from the British capital.

In 1974 the IRA extends its bombing campaign to the British mainland with attacks on pubs in Guildford, Woolwich and Birmingham that kill about 30 people in all.

It also assassinates key British figures including Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, whose boat is blown up in 1979.

On the same day 18 British soldiers are killed in an IRA ambush.

Read More: Briton to face trial for 1996 murder of Frenchwoman in Ireland

Hunger strikes, bombs

A turning point comes in 1981 when IRA inmate Bobby Sands and nine comrades die on hunger strike at Belfast’s Maze Prison where they are demanding political prisoner status.

Their deaths draw global sympathy for the Irish Catholic cause.

In 1982 the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein wins its first seats in the Northern Ireland parliament. The following year Gerry Adams is elected party chief.

The IRA continues to strike England, attacking the heart of power in 1984 with a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet are there for a Conservative party conference. Five people die.

In 1992 and 1993 two massive bombings kill four people and cause major damage in the City of London financial hub.

Peace initiatives

An attempt by Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath to establish a power-sharing executive founders in 1973.

Thatcher signs a new Anglo-Irish accord in 1985. In a major concession, it acknowledges Dublin’s say in Northern Ireland’s affairs but it fails to win backing.

In the mid-1990s peace efforts again stall, leading the IRA to end a historic ceasefire in place since 1994.

It sets off huge bombs in London and Manchester in 1996. Two people die and the damage is enormous.

Good Friday breakthrough

In July 1997, after Tony Blair becomes Labour prime minister, Sinn Fein is offered a place at the negotiating table after the IRA declares a new ceasefire.

Following lengthy negotiations, the Good Friday Agreement is signed on April 10, 1998 between London, Ireland and the main Northern Ireland political parties, backed by the IRA.

Former arch-foes Northern Ireland’s Protestant leader Ian Paisley (L) and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams (R) in March 2007 after agreeing to restore self-rule.

It leads to a new semi-autonomous Northern Ireland with a power-sharing government between Protestants and Catholics.

Biggest atrocity

The deadliest single atrocity of the period comes four months after the accord when 29 people are killed in the Northern Ireland town of Omagh in a bomb planted by a dissident group, the Real IRA.

The attack has the effect of bolstering, rather than undermining, the peace accord.

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