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IRA bombs police station, railway

Three explosions in Britain and Northern Ireland raised fears Wednesday of an IRA bombing campaign in advance of Britain's May 1 general elections.

After two explosions at a major British rail artery Wednesday morning, a man fired an explosive device late Wednesday at a police station in Coalisland, a town in central Northern Ireland.

Police returned fire, hitting a 19-year-old man, who was in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. It was not immediately clear if he was the man who fired the device.

Two women also were admitted to South Tyrone Regional Hospital in nearby Dungannon after being hurt in an ensuing scuffle, said the spokesman, who spoke anonymously. One was treated for a minor back injury and the other for shock.

The morning blasts, in Wilmslow, 160 miles north of London, occurred hours after a telephone warning from a man claiming to represent the Irish Republican Army, and a day after Scotland Yard warned of possible pre-election IRA attacks.

In response, Labor and Conservative party leaders broke a longstanding commitment to stand united when it came to Northern Ireland, sniping at each others' policies on dealing with the IRA and its violent campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland.

Wilmslow is a major junction on Britain's western north-south rail artery, and the explosions seemed pinpointed to cause maximum economic damage, recalling previous IRA attacks in London's business district. The blasts tore up track and damaged signaling equipment at the station, which will spoil travel for the Easter holiday weekend.

"Tomorrow is the busiest day of the year for us," said David Mallender, a spokesman for Great North Eastern Railway.

Prime Minister John Major called the explosions an "insult to democracy," and opposition Labor Party leader Tony Blair said he shared with Major "an iron determination to stand up to outrages of this kind."

But their deputies hurled blame at each other.

Blair's deputy, John Prescott, said Major had wrecked the Northern Ireland peace process by striking deals with Northern Ireland's Protestant legislators, whose parliamentary support Major needed to bolster his tiny majority.

Michael Howard, the home secretary, said Blair was soft on terrorism because Labor opposes legislation allowing terrorist suspects to be detained without trial.

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