BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- An IRA bomb blitz killed a schoolboy and injured at least 36 people on busy streets, shattering five months of relative calm and raising fears today of renewed bloodshed between Catholics and Protestants.
A group of violent Protestant groups responded with a threat late Monday of 'full and urgent mobilization,' the type of statement that frequently has preceded revenge killings of Catholics.
Four of Monday's five explosions, which took place over 90 minutes, were from car bombs. The worst killed an 11-year-old boy shopping with his mother in Banbridge, 25 miles south of Belfast.
Thirty-four other passers-by, including former Ulster Home Office Affairs Minister William Craig, were injured in the blast that occurred at tea time when the streets were crowded. Three people remained in serious condition today.
The bombs, which shattered five months of relative calm in Ulster, killed any immediate hope of British attempts to achieve conciliation between Catholics and Protestants through an elected assembly.
The explosions were clearly intended as a demonstration by the outlawed Irish Republican Army they can still mount coordinated attacks despite their ranks being thinned by defections and their morale sapped by police raids.
The explosions were clearly intended as a demonstration by the outlawed Irish Republican Army that they can still mount coordinated attacks despite their ranks being thinned by defections and their morale sapped by police raids.
Police said men claiming to belong to the outlawed IRA telephoned warnings of three bombs in apparent efforts to minimize injuries. But they mistimed the warning of the Banbridge blast, contacting police shortly after it went off.
Car bombs also exploded in Belfast, Armagh and Newtownstewart, while in Newry two gunmen carried a bomb into a liquor store, shouted a warning and fled before the explosion, police said.
Two people were injured in the Armagh blast, which caused extensive damage to the office of the British Legion. Some damage to buildings was reported in the other three blasts.
The bombings shattered five months of relative calm in Ulster and undermined British efforts to mediate between Catholics and Protestants through an elected assembly.
The blasts came shortly after Ulster's largest Protestant party, the official Unionists, declared it will no longer negotiate with Northern Ireland Secretary James Prior to set up the first elected assembly since Britain assumed direct rule in 1972.
The British formula obliges Protestants to consult Roman Catholics, outnumbered in the province by a 2-to-1 ratio, in operating the proposed legislative assembly.
The Ulster Loyalist Council, an umbrella group of violent Protestant paramilitary groups, said in a war-like statement that 'we are considering a full and urgent mobilization.'
Past statements of this sort have prefaced new rounds of assassinations of Roman Catholics, prompting revenge killings by the IRA and its violent splinter group the Irish National Liberation Army.
'It's a traditional vicious circle,' said one government source, 'and there always seem to be elements around ready to give a new and even more vicious twist that will hinder progress.'