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Catholic Man Slain in N. Ireland

July 22, 2002

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A Catholic man was shot to death Monday after a night of gun attacks left two others wounded in north Belfast, the most bitterly divided side of Northern Ireland’s capital, police and residents said.

The killing of Gerald Lawlor, 19, was the first related to the Northern Ireland’s political conflict since mid-April, when a Catholic cab driver was slain in a rural village in disputed circumstances.

A group called the Red Hand Defenders claimed responsibility for the killing early Monday. Police say this name is used as a cover for the outlawed anti-Catholic group, the Ulster Defense Association, or UDA.

Lawlor was walking just after midnight toward the Whitewell Road, a contested boundary between rival British Protestant and Irish Catholic neighborhoods, when he was shot, police said.

``The series of shootings in north Belfast last night, which ended in the vicious murder of a young Catholic man, are beneath contempt,″ said Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid, Britain’s Cabinet minister for the province. ``No community grievance or political cause could ever justify this. The murderers must, and will, be brought to justice.″

Lawlor’s mother, Sharon, appealed to Catholics not to take revenge and said she would pray for her son’s killers. Gerald Lawlor had an 18-month-old son, Sharon Lawlor said.

The UDA is supposed to be observing a cease-fire in support of the province’s 1998 peace accord, but Britain no longer recognizes the validity of that truce because police blame the 3,000-strong organization for repeatedly attacking Catholics. The UDA last year disbanded its affiliated political party and formally rejected the 1998 pact, from which the UDA largely has been excluded because of its electoral unpopularity.

Catholic residents said the gunfire started Saturday night after they spotted Protestant militants on a motorcycle trying to shoot Catholics in two parts of north Belfast. One Catholic man was shot in the thigh.

Protestants said the attacks on Catholics were in retaliation for Saturday night’s shooting of a man in the Protestant half of Ardoyne, a polarized district of north Belfast at the heart of rioting the past year.

The man was hospitalized in stable condition.

Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party, denied IRA involvement.

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