IOL: Bomb scares spark traffic chaos

Bomb scares spark traffic chaos
16/01/2004 - 10:10:00

Traffic in the Belfast area was brought to a virtual standstill today because of a series of bomb alerts.

Hours after agreement was reached in London to avert a UK-wide strike by prison officers in support of colleagues in Northern Ireland who have been threatened by loyalists, main roads were shut as British Army explosives experts checked abandoned vehicles.

They included the M1 motorway where rush-hour tailbacks stretched for miles.

Security chiefs believe Protestant paramilitaries were behind the incidents, which follow a major outbreak of violence and destruction at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, causing damage running into tens of thousands of pounds.

Political representatives claim heightening tensions over a delay in segregating their men inside the jail from republicans are being used by prison staff to strengthen their demands on the British government.

Details of the agreement hammered out in London last night are expected to be released later, but authorities in Belfast believe today’s massive traffic disruption confirmed fears there will no end to the loyalist violence at Maghaberry even after both sides are kept apart in accommodation which cost more than £7m (€10.2m) to arrange.

Prison officers claim they are also living under the threat of attack from the IRA after details of 1,400 staff were among files and documents stolen by republicans from government offices in Belfast.

Northern Ireland Office officials agreed to spend up to £28m (€40.6m) increasing protection measures at homes, but union representatives insisted more was needed.

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