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Dissident protests demand action on prisoners' status

Dissident republican supporters staged a series of protests across Northern Ireland at the weekend, calling for political prisoner status and for the freeing of prominent activist Marian Price.

Around 200 people gathered outside Maghaberry Prison yesterday waving tricolours, blowing whistles and carrying placards.

On Saturday some 30 republicans gathered for a so-called "white-line protest" in Londonderry's Shipquay Street also urging support for "PoWs."

Yesterday's march from Maghaberry visitors' centre to the main gates of the prison saw protesters call for the release of Price, who was jailed last month for encouraging support for an illegal organisation.

Price was pictured at a republican rally in Derry's City Cemetery in April holding a statement which was read by a masked man.

She was jailed in 1973 for her part the Old Bailey bombing carried out by the IRA. After the cemetery incident her release licence was revoked by Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

The weekend's events came amid warnings that dissidents are wrecking Derry's economy with businesses losing millions of pounds because of regular bombscares and explosions.

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Foyle MP Mark Durkan said continued dissident activity in the area was having a devastating impact on the city's commercial centre.

Last week the niece of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was caught up in the chaos following a bomb explosion in the Lecky Road.

Last month a gang of masked men threw a bomb into the Santander bank in the Diamond in the city centre, forcing the area to be evacuated. It has since emerged that the city's Richmond centre lost more than £100,000 in business that day.

Mr Durkan said the disruption simply cannot continue."So-called dissident attacks in Derry are not threatening some distant system, disturbing the establishment or challenging the state," he said.

"Instead, they are doing real damage to a city centre that needs every trading hour it can get.

"It is local people who own, run or work in businesses who lose trade, product and wages as a result of such attacks and threats.

"The economic climate is challenging enough for businesses everywhere without shops and outlets here being harassed and handicapped by the commercial vandalism of the dissidents."

Mr Durkan said those responsible were wrecking the city and preventing real progress.

"We all share in the wider civic loss that comes from repeated disruptions which keep people out of the city centre and put others off coming to the city as either shoppers or tourists," he said.

"Shutting down the centre of Derry will not open up any political paths for these groups.

"These attacks are victimising legitimate local businesses, threatening jobs, costing wages and doing Derry down."

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