A former paramilitary killer sparked chaos in Northern Ireland's Assembly yesterday by storming the building with a gun and throwing a device, protesting efforts to restore power-sharing in the province.
Michael Stone, a well-known Protestant militant during Northern Ireland's three decade-long troubles, sparked the incident at Stormont Castle, as lawmakers met in a bid to restore self-rule for the first time in four years.
The assembly was suspended as television pictures showed Stone being pinned down by security guards at the entrance to the building, shrouded in rain for the historic occasion.
The incident came as parties in the province gathered to try to break a deadlock between Sinn Fein and pro-London protestant groups holding up the restoration of self-rule in the currently British-run province.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke off from his schedule to make a statement on the Belfast events, vowing that London and Dublin would not be diverted from their attempt to restore self-rule.
"The events at Stormont, instead of putting us off [making] progress, it's precisely what should make us more resolute," he said in London.
In Belfast, a security official said that Stone apparently had a gun after he stormed into the front doors of the building. He then took out an object, which was smoking, and threw it in the direction of security guards.
The device was seen to be making sparks. Another official told reporters that Stone was shouting about a blast as three guards leapt on him and pinned him against the inside of the doors.
"He was still shouting when they were on top of him `incendiary blast, incendiary blast.'" said the official.
On the outside of the building the words "Sinn Fein murderers" could be seen in graffiti scrawl.
Sinn Fein is the main Republican group in Northern Ireland, which has long campaigned for the province to be united with Ireland. It was formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Self-rule was suspended in 2002 after allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont Castle, the Belfast seat of administration, and the province has been under direct rule from London ever since.
Michael Stone is a former senior member of the Ulster Defence Association. He was responsible for an attack in 1988 on a Republican funeral in Belfast.
A lawmaker from the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, Patsy McGlone, said he witnessed what happened.
"We had been evacuated to the east wing of the building and my colleague and I were standing there and we witnessed a police car moving and two police officers escorting a man in handcuffs to it," he told reporters.
"He looked vaguely familiar ... On closer look, we established it was a well known loyalist mass murderer. He was in handcuffs. He was shouting `no power sharing with war criminals.' They then put him in the car and took him away," he said.