Queen Elizabeth II, ex-IRA chief Martin McGuinness shake hands in reconciliation landmark

9:40 AM, Jun 27, 2012   |    comments
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness watched by First minister Peter Robinson, center, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, June 27, 2012.



BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Queen Elizabeth II and a former Irish Republican Army commander have offered each other the hand of peace in a long-awaited encounter symbolizing Northern Ireland's progress in achieving reconciliation after decades of violence.

Northern Ireland Office officials say the monarch and Martin McGuinness met privately Wednesday inside a Belfast theater during a cross-community arts event. Media were barred from the event, but the two are expected to have a public handshake later.

Experts say McGuinness was the IRA's chief of staff when the outlawed group assassinated the queen's cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979.

The IRA renounced violence and disarmed in 2005. Two years later, McGuinness became the senior Catholic in Northern Ireland's unity government.

McGuinness' Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, had refused all contact with British royals until Wednesday.

IRA die-hards and splinter groups opposed to the group's 2005 decision to renounce violence and disarm sought to express their disapproval of the queen's visit before she arrived.

Police said nine officers were injured, none seriously, during overnight rioting on the edge of Catholic west Belfast. They said a crowd of about 100 teens and young men bombarded police units with 21 petrol bombs and other makeshift weapons. No arrests were reported, though police cameras videotaped the masked, hooded attackers in hopes of identifying them later.

And in a separate confrontation Tuesday night, one Catholic man was hospitalized after rival Protestant and Catholic groups clashed on the hilltop overlooking Catholic west Belfast. The Protestants were trying to vandalize a massive political display erected by the Catholics featuring an Irish flag and a slogan rejecting the queen.

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