Northern Ireland's Martin McGuinness dies at 66


UPDATE 2-Northern Ireland's Martin McGuinness dies at 66

* Former IRA commander became key player in peace talks
    * McGuinness bowed out of politics in January due to illness
    * Irish president praises "immense contribution" to peace

 (Adds details, statement from Irish President)
    By Ian GrahamBELFAST, March 21 (Reuters) - Martin McGuinness, a former
Irish Republican Army commander and deputy first minister of
Northern Ireland who was a key figure throughout five decades of
conflict and peace, has died aged 66, his party, Sinn Fein, said
on Tuesday.
    McGuinness, whose journey from street fighter to peacemaker
began in the 1970s during Northern Ireland's "Troubles", had
bowed out of politics several months earlier than planned in
January due to an undisclosed illness. [nL5N1F96H8]
    "Throughout his life Martin showed great determination,
dignity and humility, and it was no different during his short
illness," Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said in a statement.
    "He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for
peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his
country. But above all he loved his family and the people of
Derry and he was immensely proud of both."
    McGuinness abandoned a butcher's apprenticeship in 1970 to
join the Irish Republican Army in a bloody campaign to end
British rule in Northern Ireland. He played a key role in both
the start and the end of the province's 30-year sectarian
conflict, in which some 3,600 people were killed.

    McGuinness later admitted he was second-in-command in
Londonderry on "Bloody Sunday" - the day in 1972 when British
troops in the city killed 14 unarmed marchers, ushering in the
most intense phase of the Troubles.
    In the 1980s, McGuinness emerged alongside Adams as a key
architect in the electoral rise of Sinn Fein, the IRA's
political ally, and became the party's chief negotiator in peace
talks that led to the 1998 peace deal.
    McGuinness had been deputy first minister for a decade
before quitting in January in protest at First Minister Arlene
Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) handling of a
controversial green-energy scheme. His resignation led to the
collapse of the power-sharing government. [nL5N1EZ4JM]
    "History will record differing views and opinions on the
role Martin McGuinness played throughout the recent and not so
recent past but history will also show that his contribution to
the political and peace process was significant," said Foster,
who survived an IRA bomb attack on a school bus at the age of
    "In recent years his contribution helped build the relative
peace we now enjoy."
    Shortly after his retirement, the party achieved a major
electoral breakthrough in elections to the regional assembly,
coming within one seat of the Democratic Unionist Party and
depriving the pro-British political camp of an overall majority
for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1921.
    Irish President Michael D. Higgins said McGuinness played an
"immense contribution" to the advancement of peace and
reconciliation in Northern Ireland - a contribution he said was
rightly recognised across all shades of opinion.
    "The world of politics and the people across this island
will miss the leadership he gave, shown most clearly during the
difficult times of the peace process," Higgins said in a
    "His death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill. May
he rest in peace."

 (Additional report by Estelle Shirbon, writing by Padraic
Halpin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)
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