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European Ties

Irish president makes first state visit to UK since independence

President Michael Higgins has become the first Irish head of state to visit the United Kingdom since independence. He addressed the British parliament, praising the progress made by Dublin and London toward peace.

Addressing both houses of the British parliament on Tuesday, President Higgins said that Ireland and the United Kingdom had "a closeness and warmth that once seemed unachievable."

Higgins is the first Irish president to make a state visit to the UK since Dublin won its bloody struggle for independence from London in 1922. Although Dublin became the capital of an independent republic, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

In the 1960s, violence erupted between Irish Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists in Northern Ireland, sparking decades of conflict known as "The Troubles." More than 3,500 people were killed in the sectarian violence.

The 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement ended the conflict, although violence still breaks out sporadically.

"Our two countries can take immense pride in the progress of peace in Northern Ireland," Higgins told British lawmakers on Tuesday. "There is of course still a road to be traveled, the road of a lasting and creative reconciliation."

Earlier, Higgins was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II at a state banquet in Windsor Castle. Former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander Martin McGuinness, currently the first minister of Northern Ireland, also attended the banquet.

Higgins visit to the UK comes three years after Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since independence.

slk/se (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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