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    Blair, Bush Welcome IRA Pledge to End Violence

    The Irish Republican Army says it is ending its armed campaign against British rule and will instead pursue greater autonomy through peaceful means. President Bush is welcoming the announcement, saying it must now be followed-up by action.

    British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the IRA statement ordering all armed militants to end their 30-year campaign of violence is a step of unparalleled magnitude in recent Irish history.

    "This may be the day when, finally, after all the false dawns and dashed hopes, peace replaced war, politics replaces terror on the island of Ireland," he said.

    The prime minister says he welcomes the statement's recognition that the path to political change lies exclusively through peaceful and democratic means.

    If the IRA promises prove to be permanent and verifiable, Mr. Blair says proper, devolved democratic governance should be restored to Northern Ireland.

    White House spokesman Scott McClellan welcomed the announcement, saying Washington understands that the call on Irish militants to not engage in any other activities whatsoever means that the IRA will no longer have contacts with any foreign paramilitary or terrorist organization.

    The White House says it understands that victims of IRA violence and their families will be skeptical about the announcement, which it says must now be followed by actions demonstrating the movement's unequivocal commitment to the rule of law.

    The IRA is blamed for the deaths of more than 1,800 people prior to a 1997 cease-fire. This statement maintains that that armed struggle was legitimate, but an alternative now exists to end British rule and reunite with Ireland.

    Prime Minister Blair says there is no way to justify that campaign of violence, but there is now an opportunity to move forward.

    "Of course, there will continue to be fundamental disagreement about the past," he said. "The IRA believe that their means were justified. The rest of us do not and will remember today the many thousand victims of their campaign. But the best way to serve the memory of victims is to make the future brighter and there is at least some hope today that the future will indeed be such as to banish the ghastly and futile violence from Northern Ireland forever."

    The leader of the IRA's political wing, Gerry Adams, says the announcement is a courageous and confident initiative that will help revive the peace process. He is calling on all sides to seize a moment which he describes as a defining point in the search for a lasting peace with justice.

     

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