Britain and Ireland both say they will be making urgent efforts in the next few days to rescue the Northern Ireland peace process from collapse.
But as the two governments prepared for crisis talks, leading politicians agreed it will be extremely challenging to bring together the province's opposed religious communities after seven days of widespread violence and political recriminations.
British Prime Minister John Major and his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, have quarreled publicly for the first time. They are facing a crisis that analysts say threatens to put the peace process back to square one.
The latest setback to peace came in the early hours of yesterday morning when the first terrorist bomb attack in Northern Ireland in nearly two years wrecked a hotel in the town of Enniskillen.
In November 1987 Enniskillen was the scene of one of the worst terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland's long history of violence; eleven people died and 63 were injured when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted a bomb during a religious service on a state holiday.
Yesterday's car bomb explosion in Enniskillen was preceded by a 15-minute warning. The hotel's more than 200 guests were evacuated. At least 40 people were injured.
Police said it appeared to be the work of the IRA. However, Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, expressed "some skepticism" that the IRA could be responsible.
Earlier, more than 2,000 people rioted in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city. Police said nationalist (Catholic) demonstrators had hurled more than a thousand homemade petrol bombs.
On Saturday, John Hume, leader of the moderate nationalist Social and Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), announced that his group was withdrawing from the Northern Ireland peace forum elected in May.
Mr. Hume, chief broker of the August 1994 terrorist cease-fire that made a breakthrough to lasting peace seem possible, authorized a statement bitterly attacking the British government for its "capitulation to violent threats" by members of the Protestant Orange Order, who had been allowed to march through a Catholic district Friday.
The demonstration by 1,500 Orangemen at Portadown, near Belfast, triggered some of the worst street violence in more than 25 years as Catholic protesters in many towns and cities reacted angrily to the police decision to let the march go ahead.
As Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams declared the peace process "in absolute ruins," Mr. Major and Mr. Bruton disputed who was responsible for the renewed violence.
In a widely reported TV interview, Bruton accused Major of making "a very serious mistake" at Portadown, alleging that Northern Ireland police had "shown partiality" in their handling of the march.
Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir
Patrick Mayhew said Bruton's claims were "absurd and offensive." Mary Holland, who has reported on Irish affairs for more than 30 years for London's Observer newspaper, says recent events have "united Irish nationalists, north and south, in a mood of cold, communal fury." She blames Unionist leaders and the British government, for "trampling two years of peace hopes in the dust."
Unionist political leaders, however, have argued that the Portadown march was held to signal Protestant resistance to further British concessions to the IRA.
David Trimble, leader of the most powerful Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, said Thursday: "The bottom line is that we have seen the government make concession after concession to the IRA. The marchers have come to Portadown to say 'enough is enough.' "
British government officials say attempts to put the peace process back on track will focus on two key themes: restoring the apparently bruised personal relations between Major and Bruton, and attempting to get the SDLP to change its mind and attend peace forum meetings.