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Clinton pleads for peace as N. Ireland’s McGuinness buried

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Former US president Bill Clinton urged Northern Ireland to finish the work of peace at the funeral Thursday of Martin McGuinness, the former paramilitary commander turned peace negotiator.

McGuinness, who resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in January, died on Tuesday of a rare heart condition. He was 66.

Clinton was among a range of political leaders who attended McGuinness’s funeral in his native Derry in Northern Ireland along with thousands of people.

Former US President Bill Clinton touches the coffin during the funeral of former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, in St Columba’s Church Long Tower in Derry, Northern Ireland on March 23, 2017. / AFP PHOTO

The green, white and orange Irish flag adorned his coffin as it lay in the Catholic Saint Columba’s Church, where former comrades and foes alike paid their last respects.

He was hailed by many as a peacemaker in later life who played an instrumental role in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which largely brought to an end a conflict in which around 3,500 people were killed.

But relatives of the victims of Irish Republican Army bombs said they could not forgive the former IRA commander for his previous actions.

Clinton told mourners he “came to treasure every encounter” with McGuinness.

“If you really came here to celebrate his life and to honour the contribution of the last chapter of it, you have to finish his work,” he said in his address.

“Finish the work of peace so we can all make a future together.

“The only way a lasting peace can ever take hold and endure is if those who have legitimate, legitimate griefs on both sides embrace the future together.”

McGuinness’s Sinn Fein party, representing Catholic Irish nationalists, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of the pro-British Protestants, have a limited window to resolve their differences and form a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, or control will return to London.

– Applause for Foster –

McGuinness lived in a modest terraced house in the nationalist Bogside district of Derry.

Followed by thousands, his coffin was carried to church through areas where he rose to prominence during the civil rights campaign of the late 1960s, when Catholic nationalists demanded fairer treatment before the British state.

McGuinness rose through a resurgent IRA to be regarded as the most dangerous of opponents in a guerilla campaign that would last a further three decades before helping to broker the 1998 peace accords along with Clinton.

Clinton said McGuinness was “not afraid to make a compromise — and he was strong enough to keep it”.

McGuinness pulled the plug on the province’s power-sharing government, triggering the March 2 elections, by refusing to work with DUP leader and first minister Arlene Foster over a heating scheme spat.

She was applauded as she took her seat in church.

Michelle O’Neill, McGuinness’s replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, was pictured reaching around Clinton to shake Foster’s hand.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Prime Minister Enda Kenny were also among the mourners, along with former PM Bertie Ahern and ex-president Mary McAleese.

In a reminder how much Northern Ireland’s society has changed, there was no ritual volley of shots over his coffin as would have been the case for a self-proclaimed “proud IRA volunteer” during the Troubles.

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