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Peace That Starts in the Heart

People power can work in trouble spots like N. Ireland

Chalk one up for people power in Northern Ireland.

A shift in public opinion as much as artful diplomacy by American envoy George Mitchell helped bring about the latest leap toward self-government and disarmament in the province. After 18 months of relatively terror-free peace, both Catholics and Protestants are quietly forcing politicians to move forward, not backward, on the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

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In many world trouble spots, public displays of a desire for peace or for freedom do increasingly matter. Militants and oppressors don't live in a political vacuum, especially in this age of Internet, polls, satellite TV, and more effective organizing.

Over time, rallies and other tactics of peaceful persuasion can broaden the social consensus that wears down the will to violence among those with guns and bombs.

In October, millions of Colombians - perhaps a third of the population - took to the streets in the country's largest protest against a decades-long civil war and in support of fresh peace talks between the government and Marxist rebels.

While prospects for peace still seem slim, the many people fed up with Colombia's war are signaling both sides that they are not passive puppets of power games but active players in shaping peace.

Another extraordinarily large rally took place on Nov. 8 in Indonesia's independence-seeking province of Aceh. Militants there were sidelined for the moment as people rallied to demand a referendum for self-determination.

In the renewed democracy of Indonesia, such outpouring of dissent against military repression holds real power. Democracy itself was restored last year after rallies helped erode the legitimacy of President Suharto.

In China, too, where any unofficial rally is forbidden, the religious group Falun Gong sent shockwaves through the Communist Party this year - just by walking quietly through Beijing.

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In Spain, a terrorist group seeking a separate Basque state ended a 14-month cease-fire this week. A setback? Not in the long run. Analysts say the group, known as ETA, feared it would become further isolated by more massive anti-ETA public rallies if it didn't resume violence now.

True peace agreements can start in the critical mass of changes in public thinking.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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