The body of Provisional Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands was brought home today in a flag-draped coffin after his death early this morning in the 66th day of his fast. violent disturbances continued as preparations began for Sands' IRA funeral Thursday and a service organized by hard-line Protestants for "victims of IRA violence."
Although intense at times, the violence was confined mostly to stone and firebomb attacks on police and British soldiers in Belfast and the hijacking and burning of vehicles to block traffic elsewhere in the British-ruled province. More than 20 people were injured, several seriously, in the rioting by hundreds of youths in roving bands in the Catholic ghettos of west Belfast.
Police, backed up by British soldiers, countered hundreds of crude milk-bottle firebombs and hails of bricks and stones with repeated volleys of plastic bullets.Police and Army armored vehicles and bulldozers pushed through street barricades that the rioters built of trash and overturned cars and trucks, while military roadblocks separated rioters from nearby Protestant neighborhoods.
The disturbances began with word of Sands' death early this morning in the Maze Prison near here, and continued on and off during the day and tonight. They were accompanied by isolated incidents elsewhere in Britain and abroad.
In London, a letter bomb addressed to Prince Charles was discovered by postal employes and defused tonight. His mother, Queen Eilzabeth II, visiting Norway, was a target of a thrown balloon filled with tomato sauce. She was not hit and ignored shouts from a few demonstrators amid a large welcoming crowd.
This afternoon, following a postmortem at the prison, Sands' body was taken in a wooden coffin to his parents' home in an area of west Belfast, where neighbors had draped black bunting from their windows and several hundred mourners waited. Pallbearers, who included Sands' father and brother, laid the green, orange and white flag of the Irish Republic on the coffin before carrying it inside.
Sands, who had been elected a member of the British Parliament from a predominantly Catholic border constituency during his hunger strike, is to be given an IRA "military" funeral and burial here Thursday. It is intended to attract support for militant Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland and Provisional IRA's current campaign for political-prisoner status for its convicted terroists. His supporters have called for a "national day of mourning" Thursday.
Protestant polictical leaders here responded to Sands' death and the attention it has gotten by complaining that much less notice has been paid to victims of IRA terrorists. "My sorrow is with the innocent victims who did not get the extensive coverage Sands did," said the Rev. Ian Paisley, a member of Parliament who is a militant defender of political dominance by Ulster's two-third Protestant majority.
Paisley announced he will hold a rival memorial service in Belfast for "the many thousands of victims of IRA violence" during Sands' funeral. Another Protestant Ulster Unionist member of Parliament, Harold McCusker, is sending complaints by Protestant widows of terrorist victims to the European Commission on Human Rights, which had investigated the convicted IraY immates' demands for special status and found against them.
Because of his election a month ago, Sands' death was offically announced in Parliament in London. Later, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher again defended her determination not to give in to the inmates' demands despite the continuing hunger strike of three other jailed IRA terrorists and the threat today by 70 more IRA prisoners there to join the surviving trio. One, Francis Hughes, 25, the most-wanted IRA gunman until his 1978 capture and conviction for murder, is reported to be in worsening condition after 51 days without food.
"We shall continue in our efforts to stamp out terrorism," Thatcher told Parliament. "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice his organization did not give to many of their victims."
Opposition leader Michael Foot said that political-prisoner status could not be granted without "giving sure aid to the recruitment of terrorists, which increases the numbers of people who would be killed."
But this "confrontational course" was criticized by a leading Catholic politician in Northern Ireland, John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, which favors negotiated unification of Northern Ireland with the predominantly Catholic Republic of Ireland to the south and opposes Irish nationalist terroism. Hume said he thought that the government could still end the hunger strike without more deaths by further liberalizing rules for all prisoners in the province.
Renewing his appeal to the remaining hunger strikers "to give up their fast," Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich, Ireland's Roman Catholic primate, also repeated "my previous plea to the British government to abandon their inflexible attitude" on prison dress and work rules, two of the protesting prisioners' five demands.
Both Protestant and Catholic political leaders continued to call for calm following of Sands' death. Provisional Sinn Fein, the polictical wing of the IRA, urged "dignified" mourning by Irish nationalists. Leaders of Protestant paramilitary groups said they would leave protection of their neighborhoods to the security forces.
As a result, although the present violence is the most widespread in Northern Ireland streets in several years, it has so far been much less serious than the sectarian fighting in 1969 that began the current round of "troubles."
"The Army's been sitting right outside all night and we haven't had any trouble," said a Protestant woman living just a few doors from a street separating Protestant and Catholic enclaves. "People don't seem to be too worried."
Noting that the vast majority of Catholics also had stayed away from the disturbances in their neighborhoods, Hume said, "The signs are good that the mass of people would not involve themselves in violence."
Word of Sands' death was spread through Catholic neighborhoods in the early-morning darkness by people blowing whistles and banging garbage cans covers in the street. At first, entire families answered the summons to come out of their homes. Some prayed in the street in the glare of television lights.
But at the same time, according to residents, youths were building street barricades and making Molotov cocktails with apparently stockpiled gasoline and milk bottles. Hiding their faces with ski masks, scarves and stockings, they pelted armored police and Army vehicles and the metal stockade forts surrounding their stations.
Gunshots were fired by the police on one occassion, according to a spokesman, when officers on foot were surrounded and in danger of being burned by firebombs.
As rioting by smaller numbers of youths flared again in Belfast and violence broke out in other Ulster towns tonight, officials voiced apprehension about how long it would last.