BELFAST, Northern Ireland--Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British Parliament, died in the hospital of Northern Ireland's Maze prison last night, 66 days after he began a hunger strike to demand "political status" for jailed IRA members.
Sands, who lapsed into a coma Sunday, died at 1:17 a.m. Belfast time. (8:17 p.m. EDT.), with his family by his bedside.
The streets of Uister's two largest ities--Belfast and Londonderry--were reported quiet but tense in the early morning hours immediately after Sands' death.
British troops mounted especially heavy patrols through the Falls Road section of Belfast, where Sands grew up, and put into action unspecified "contingency plans" drawn up to prevent violence in the event of Sands death.
IRA leaders called for a period of mourning for Sands, and announced plans for his burial with full military honors later in the week.
Sands, 27, who was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison for carrying an unloaded 22 caliber handgun, launched his hunger strike March 1, in an effort to win political prisoner status for jailed IRA members. The British government has repeatedly refused to grant the demand, saying Sands and other IRA members were in jail for violent, not political, crimes.
The British Northern Ireland office issued a statement saying "Mr. Robert Sands, a prisoner at the Maze prison died today...He took his own life by refusing food and medical intervention for 65 days."
Catholic youths demonstrated and clashed with Belfast police and British troops throughout the evening before Sands' death, ignoring pleas from British officials that they refrain from violence.
Sands, who weighed 155 pounds when he began his hunger strike and less than 85 pounds when he died yesterday, is the 13th Irish nationalist hunger striker to die in a British jail this century and the first to perish in Northern Ireland