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Irish Catholic rebel Patrick O'Hara died Thursday night in...

By
ALISON SMALE

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Irish Catholic rebel Patrick O'Hara died Thursday night in the 61st day of his hunger strike, within 24 hours of fellow prisoner Raymond McCreesh. Rioters firebombed police stations and attacked security forces across Northern Ireland.

O'Hara was the fourth convict to fast to death this month.

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McCreesh and O'Hara, both 24, started their fasts on the same day and died on the same day. Bobby Sands starved to death May 5, and Francis Hughes died a week later, on May 12.

Catholics stormed the streets across Northern Ireland and pelted security forces with gasoline bombs and rocks, injuring at least three soldiers.

Snipers fired at police and regular British soldiers trying to contain the rioting. Two civilians were injured in sniper fire in Belfast, police said.

All the Catholic convicts entered their 'fast to the death' in a campaign to force Britain to give them status as political prisoners, but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has refused to concede to their demands.

'Patrick O'Hara, a prisoner at HM Prison Maze, died Thursday at 11:29 p.m. (6:29 p.m. EDT),' a spokesman of Britain's Northern Ireland office said. 'He took his own life by refusing food and medical attention for 61 days.'

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O'Hara's mother, Peggy, was at the Maze prison hospital when he died.

The rioting appeared the heaviest since Sands died more than two weeks ago.

Gangs up to 200 strong swarmed onto the streets of Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Dungannon, Strabahn, Portadown and Lurgan, police said.

Three police stations in the Roman Catholic districts of west Belfast came under attack from youth gangs hurling firebombs, bottles and bricks, police said.

In O'Hara's home town of Londonderry, police reported nine attacks upon security forces by blast bombs -- gasoline bombs filled with shrapnel. Three soldiers were slightly injured by one of the bombs and werJRyital.

Several shops on the edge of Londonderry's Catholic Bogside area were set ablaze in the gasoline bombing and rioting. Above the din of clanging garbage can lids and whistles, the sound of police firing plastic bullets to disperse the crowds could be heard.

In the Falls Road area of Belfast, the Allied Irish Bank building was gutted by flames and rioters prevented firefighters from reaching the scene to extinguish the blaze.

Police in the Catholic Ardoyne and Twinbrook districts of Belfast came under heavy, sustained gasoline bomb attacks and security forces seized 10 to 12 crates of firebombs and bomb-making equipment. One person was arrested, police said.

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In the Divis street area of Belfast, an INLA stronghold, police said a number of shots were fired at security forces, but no injuries were reported.

O'Hara, serving an 8-year-jail term for possession of explosives, was the first hunger striker to die as a member of the Irish National Liberation Army, an extreme group which claimed responsibility for the murder of Lord Mountbatten and Conservative Member of Parliament Airey Neaves in 1979. The other three were members of the Irish Republican Army.

The INLA is an outlawed Marxist offshoot of the militant Irish Republican Socialist Party. It basically has the same aims as the IRA, a unified, socialist Ireland.

Richard McCauley, a republican spokesman said, 'Blame for the death of Patsy O'Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Francis Hughes and Bobby Sands rests solely with the British government.'

The republican press office in Belfast said it was 'reliably understood' that a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party would take O'Hara's place in the hunger strike.

Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich, the Roman Catholic primate of all Ireland, appealed in 'near desperation' to the British government and the IRA to compromise and bring the hunger strikes to an end.

The national H-Block committee said McCreesh's place would be taken by Kieran Doherty, 25, serving a 22-year sentence for possession of arms and explosives and hijacking a car.

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The IRA's five demands are for unrestricted association with inmates, wearing clothes of the convicts' choice, right to refuse prison work, extra visits and letters and automatic 50 percent reduction in prison sentences for good behavior. Britain says this amounts to prisoners running their own jail as prisoners of war.

McCreesh's body was taken to his Camlough home in the so-called bandit country of South Armagh, near where five British soldiers were killed Tuesday by an IRA landmine. Up to 3,000 mourners turned out to watch his Irish tricolor flag-draped coffin carried into the family's house. Atop the casket were the traditional IRA symbols -- the black beret and folded black gloves.

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