‘We Will Stand With You’ Clinton Compares Civil War With Northern Ireland
A cheering crowd of 50,000 Protestants and Catholics filled the frosty streets of this long-troubled city Thursday to hear President Clinton urge them to bury their ancient bitterness and build a new future together.
“We will stand with you as you take risks for peace,” Clinton told the roaring crowd as they waved tiny U.S. flags. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Shielded by bulletproof glass, Clinton lit an outdoor Christmas tree as a symbol of the peace he is trying to foster in this capital of Northern Ireland, where a cease-fire 15 months ago ended 25 years of sectarian violence.
As the first sitting U.S. president ever to visit Northern Ireland, Clinton hoped his presence would help inspire the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority to resolve their differences. His visit, part of a five-day European trip, culminated a two-year White House effort to prod the halting peace process along.
Thousands lined the streets earlier as Clinton’s motorcade entered this grimy industrial city, where walls in working-class neighborhoods feature murals of the masked paramilitary gunmen whose gang warfare held this province in a reign of terror from 1969 to Sept. 1, 1994, when the ceasefire began. Some 3,000 died during “the troubles.”
Protestant neighborhoods still fly the Union Jack flag of Great Britain, which rules the region’s 1.6 million people, 56 percent of them Protestant. Catholic neighborhoods fly the orange, green and white banner of the Irish Republic to the south, a Catholic land those of the north long to join.
In appealing to both sides to put their long-nursed grievances behind them, Clinton invoked the legacy of America’s bitter Civil War in the first of four speeches he gave Thursday here and in Londonderry. He quoted a former Confederate governor of Arkansas:
“‘We have all done wrong. No one can say his heart is altogether clean and his hands altogether pure. Thus as we wish to be forgiven, let us forgive those who have sinned against us and ours.’
“That was the beginning of America’s reconciliation, and it must be the beginning of Northern Ireland’s reconciliation,” Clinton said to heartfelt applause.
The president encouraged all factions to join in a “twin track” set of peace talks announced Monday night by the London and Dublin governments. After months of stalemate, their breakthrough agreement on how to proceed came only moments before Clinton left Washington to begin his peace mission here.
Leaders of extremist factions, Catholic and Protestant, reacted to the London breakthrough with hostility, casting doubt on whether they will participate. But Clinton urged them to.
“Engaging in honest dialogue is not an act of surrender. It is an act of strength and common sense,” he said to applause from a crowd of 700 at the Mackie textile machinery plant.
“I think that he was very inspirational,” said Janet Robinson, a self-described “middle-class Protestant.” She conceded, however, that “there are people here with intense views, and I think no matter who came to speak to them, they would be very difficult to change.”
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