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ON THIS DAY

01 Jul 07. NI marks 91st Somme anniversary. More than one million soldiers were killed at the Somme. A number of events have taken place across NI to mark the 91st anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers led a procession of politicians and senior members of the armed forces to lay a wreath at the cenotaph in the city. The Duke of Gloucester visited the Somme Heritage Centre in Conlig and was given a tour of the simulated trenches. The centre commemorates the involvement of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions in the battle. Soldiers from these divisions were in the thick of the fighting between 1 July and 13 November 1916. More than 2,000 soldiers from Northern Ireland died on the first day. The duke was met by Lord Lieutenant of County Down William Hall and accompanied on the tour by Viscount Brookeborough, who is vice-president of the Somme Association. The duke signed a visitors book before going on for a number of other engagements. The Battle of the Somme claimed the lives of 420,000 British soldiers. French casualties were estimated at 195,000 and the German loss of life was around 650,000. (Source: BBC)

03 July 1988. US warship shoots down Iranian airliner. An American naval warship patrolling in the Persian Gulf has shot down an Iranian passenger jet after apparently mistaking it for an F-14 fighter. All those on board the airliner – almost 300 people – are believed dead. The plane, an Airbus A300, was making a routine flight from Bandar Abbas, in Iran, to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The USS Vincennes had tracked the plane electronically and warned it to keep away. When it did not, the ship fired two surface-to-air missiles, at least one of which hit the airliner. Navy officials said the Vincennes’ crew believed they were firing at an Iranian F14 jet fighter, although they had not confirmed this visually. The plane blew up six miles from the Vincennes, the wreckage falling in Iranian territorial waters. Iranian ships and helicopters have been searching for survivors but none have so far been found. Iranian television broadcast scenes of bodies floating amid scattered debris. Iran has reacted with outrage, accusing the United States of a “barbaric massacre” and vowed to “avenge the blood of our martyrs”. President Reagan said the Vincennes had taken “a proper defensive action” and called the incident an “understandable accident”, although he said he regretted the loss of life. Admiral William J Crowe, Jr, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference that the US government deeply regretted the incident. However, he said, the Airbus was four miles west of the usual commercial airline route and the pilot ignored repeated radio warnings from the Vincennes to change course. Less than an hour before the shooting down of the passenger jet, he added, the Vincennes was engaged in a gun battle with three Iranian gunboats after a helicopter from the Vincennes was fired on. The president promised a full investigation into how a passenger jet came to be mistaken for a fighter jet, which is two-thirds smaller. US warships have been escorting Kuwaiti tankers in and out of the Persian Gulf since last July as part of its controversial undertaking to keep the Straits of Hormuz open during the eight-year-old Iran-Iraq War. Pentagon officials acknowledged at the time that increased US military presence would risk provoking confrontations with Iran. Last May the patrol frigate USS Stark was almost sunk by an Iraqi fighter-bomber, killing 37 sailors. Vigilance was tightened after the incident. (Source: BBC)

05 July 1989: Irangate colonel avoids prison. Former White House aide Oliver North has escaped jail for his part in the Iran-Contra affair. The decorated Vietnam veteran was convicted of three – out of 12 – charges relating to illegal United States’ support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s. He received a three-year suspended prison sentence

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