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Northern Ireland

Republican leader Gerry Adams criticizes arrest, urges calm

Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams has said his arrest was a poor strategic decision from those who authorized it. However, Adams also called for a measured response, saying "the past is the past" at a Belfast hotel.

Police in Northern Ireland released Gerry Adams from custody on Sunday evening, after four days of questioning over his alleged involvement in the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. No charges were immediately filed against Adams, but police said that they would forward their evidence to public prosecutors for review.

Adams sought a comparatively conciliatory tone after the Sinn Fein party had said that "dark forces" in the police service and among Northern Irish loyalists had orchestrated the arrests. Adams also said that those who authorized his detention "didn't make the right strategic decision," sending "entirely a wrong signal," but stressed that he believed this "old guard" represented a minority in Northern Ireland.

"My resolve remains as strong as ever, that is to build the peace, not to let this put us off. It's our future. The past is the past," Adams said at a press conference at the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast. "The old guard which is against change, whether it is in the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) leadership, within elements of Unionism or the far fringes of the self-proclaimed pseudo-republicans, they can't win."

Thirty-three taped interviews

The 65-year-old said police conducted 33 taped interviews with him during his time in custody, but said they offered no real evidence besides old newspaper articles, photos and audio interviews. When asked, he described spending four nights in custody as "OK," but noted that the food was inedible and the facilities not up to modern standards.

Adams denies any involvement in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, a Protestant mother of 10 abducted, shot, and buried in an unmarked grave.

The paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) admitted to McConville's killing in 1999, saying she had been an informant for the British army. A Northern Irish investigation later found no evidence to support this. McConville's remains were discovered by chance on a beach in 2003. McConville was already widowed when she was abducted; most of her children were subsequently placed in separate foster homes.

"The McConville family is going to stay to the bitter end of this till we get justice for our mother," said Michael McConville, who was 11 years old when around a dozen IRA members abducted his mother in front of him. "We know it is going to be a long road, but we have already been fighting for justice for 40 years and we are not going to stop now."

'IRA is gone, finished'

Adams has led Sinn Fein, the political arm of Northern Ireland's republican movement, since 1983, winning credit for his role in brokering the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This shaky ceasefire helped to gradually draw a line under 30 years of violence, between mostly-Catholic republicans and mostly-Protestant loyalists, which claimed around 3,500 lives. Unrest still persists in the British province, but has become much more sporadic since the era known as "The Troubles."

Flanked by Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, Adams on Sunday questioned the timing of his detention, suggesting it was timed to coincide with campaigning for the European elections later this month.

Adams maintains he was never an IRA member, but also acknowledges that his position within Sinn Fein meant that he frequently dealt with the organization.

"I'm an Irish Republican. I want to live in a peaceful Ireland. I've never dissociated myself from the IRA and I never will but I am glad that I and others have created a peaceful and democratic way forward for everyone. The IRA is gone, finished," Adams said.

Protestant protesters blocked Adams' exit from the interrogation center in Antrim, west of Belfast, waving banners demanding justice for IRA victims. After a brief standoff with riot police, officers ultimately ushered Adams out of a back exit instead.

msh/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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