ROMAN Catholic youths went on a rampage in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second largest city, early yesterday after Protestant gunmen walked into a bar and killed at least seven people in a Halloween party massacre late Saturday.
The sectarian strife followed statements on Friday in which British Prime Minister John Major and Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds held out the chance that the militant Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other groups might be invited to peace talks if the violence stopped.
The statements, seen as offering a glimmer of hope for ending the conflict, were prompted by the worst wave of revenge killings Northern Ireland has suffered for almost a decade.
Eleven people also were injured in the Saturday attack when two gunmen wearing baseball caps and masks walked into the packed Rising Sun pub in Greysteel, 80 miles northwest of Belfast, and opened fire with submachine guns.
The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), an outlawed Protestant extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack, which cast a shadow over new efforts to bring peace to the province. The UFF said in a statement that the attack was staged to avenge a bombing that killed nine Protestants last Saturday by IRA guerrillas fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
The bomb, which went off prematurely, also killed a Catholic man who had planted the bomb in a Belfast fish shop.
``This is the continuation of our threat against the [Irish] nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday's slaughter of nine Protestants,'' the UFF message said.
The shooting brought the death toll in sectarian killing since Saturday's IRA Belfast bombing to 23. Six Catholics have been killed by Protestant death squads in the past week.
Catholic youths rampaging in Londonderry over the weekend had to be dispersed by the police and the Army.
The seaside village of Greysteel is eight miles from Londonderry, the site of some of the original disturbances in 1969 that touched off a cycle of violence in Northern Ireland, a British province, that has since killed more than 3,000 people.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the heavily Protestant Domocratic Unionist Party that wants to maintain the link with Britain, said the killings were inexcusable. He said the killers had learned their trade from the IRA.
Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring said: ``The depths of sectarian hatred, which are being plumbed at the moment, can serve no purpose.''
The UFF said the shooting was aimed at derailing attempts by the Irish government ``to meddle in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.''