Belfast Braces for Bloody New Year

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BELFAST: The last place you want to see in the New Year is in a Catholic pub in Belfast, says TIME correspondent Barry Hillenbrand. The assassination in prison last weekend of Unionist militant Billy Wright, followed by the retaliatory strike on a Catholic disco, has left the city braced for a new wave of bloodletting.

But, says Hillenbrand, although a bout of violent retaliation by both sides may lie ahead, “the fighting by extremists at the fringes is not a hindrance to the peace process.” The recent attacks were carried out by anti-peace breakaway factions of the Republican and Unionist movements. “The real question is whether the center can hold. The mainstream Republicans and Unionists have said they won’t be drawn into new violence. But the big question, since even before the recent killings, is whether the mainstream Unionists plan to stay at the talks.”

So while Britain will spend the next couple of weeks doing their best to keep Unionists and Republicans apart, they may have to work even harder to keep them in the same room after talks resume on January 12.