Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has criticised the handling of his arrest over the murder of Jean McConville but has insisted police in Northern Ireland retain his support.
After his release from custody, pending a report being sent to prosecutors, Mr Adams again rejected allegations made by former republican colleagues that he ordered the abduction and killing of the Belfast mother-of-10 in 1972.
The 65-year-old politician questioned the timing of his detention and said police had unnecessarily used "coercive" legislation to detain and quiz him.
Mr Adams' arrest on Wednesday triggered a bitter political row at Stormont, with Sinn Fein accusing an "anti-peace process rump" within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) of orchestrating the detention with the aim of damaging the party ahead of the European and local government elections.
This was angrily rejected by political rivals, whose fury intensified when senior Sinn Fein figures indicated that their support for the police - a critical plank in the peace process - would be "reviewed" if Mr Adams was charged. Democratic Unionist Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson denounced those remarks as "bully boy" tactics.
Mrs McConville's son Michael tonight called for an independent investigation into his mother's death by a team from outside Northern Ireland to ensure that no "political pressure" is applied.
Giving his first public reaction to his four day detention in Antrim police station, Mr Adams moved to reaffirm his party's commitment to new policing structures in the region.
While he said the police's action had sent out the "wrong signal", he added: "Despite this I want to make it clear that I support the PSNI, I will continue to work with others to build a genuinely civic policing service.
"The old guard which is against change - whether in the PSNI leadership, within elements of unionism, or the far fringes of self proclaimed but pseudo republicans - they can't win.
"The dark side of the British system cannot be allowed to deny anyone, any of our people - Catholic, Protestant or dissenter - to their entitlement to a rights-based citizen society as set out in the Good Friday Agreement."
A rapturous welcome afforded to the republican veteran by supporters in a Belfast hotel tonight was in stark contrast to the angry loyalist protest staged outside Antrim police station when news of his release filtered through this evening.
Mr Adams urged people to acknowledge the feelings of the McConville family at a time when intense focus has been directed on the 37-year-old widow's death.
But he said claims that he was involved were part of a "sustained, malicious, untruthful and sinister campaign".
Mr Adams, who read his statement in Irish before reading it in English, thanked everyone for the support he had been shown, adding: "I am conscious that there is another family at the heart of all of this and that is the family of Jean McConville.
"Let me very clear - I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs McConville.
"I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed and for the return of the bodies of others killed during the conflict and secretly buried by the IRA, and I will continue to do so."
The decision to release Mr Adams and send a report to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) means the ultimate decision whether to charge him with any offence will be made by prosecutors at a later date after reviewing evidence presented by police.
It could take some time for the PSNI to prepare the file for the PPS, with prosecutors then taking a further period to assess whatever evidence is presented.
Downing Street confirmed that David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken earlier in the day to discuss the situation surrounding Mr Adams' arrest, but would not give any further details of the call.
Mr Adams left Antrim Police station through a rear exit while angry loyalist protesters waved Union flags and staged a sit down protest in front of the heavily fortified station.
The announcement of Mr Adams' release came almost 96 hours after he was arrested on Wednesday night after voluntarily presenting himself at Antrim station for interview.
He questioned the approach of officers during more than 30 separate interviews over his time in custody. He said questions stretched as far back as when he was 18 months old and referenced old press reports of his republican activities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mr Adams said the evidence presented to him regarding Mrs McConville's murder was based primarily on the contents of Boston College archive - an oral history project documenting the Troubles from the perspectives of former paramilitaries.
Two of the Sinn Fein president's former republican colleagues - Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price - gave interviews in which they accused Mr Adams of involvement in Mrs McConville's death. The PSNI won a long legal battle to secure the tapes from Boston College last year and Mr Adams's arrest has been the seventh since then.
Mr Adams said the allegations made against him in relation to the killing of Mrs McConville are "based almost exclusively on hearsay from unnamed alleged Boston College interviewees but mostly from Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes".
He said other alleged interviewees were referred to only by a letter of the alphabet.
"I reject all the allegations, and rejected all the allegations made against me in these tapes," he said.
He said he did not expect "special treatment" at Antrim police station, and said it is "crucial" that everyone is treated fairly, and that everyone knows these are "changed times".
Mr Adams said the only way is forward, adding that there will be "diversions".
He said: "But most importantly there are elements out there who are actively erecting obstacles, actively seeking to put up diversions, so we know that.
"I thank everyone for their support.
"I extend sympathy once again to the McConville family, and to all those who have suffered, especially at the hands of republicans."
Mr Adams said his resolve remained "as strong as ever", and said that resolve was "to build the peace".
He insisted those who authorised his arrest and detention "could have done it differently".
He said: "They had discretion, they did not have to use pernicious, coercive legislation to deal with a legacy issue even one as serious as this, which I was voluntarily prepared to deal with.
"They did not have to do this in the middle of an election campaign. Remember I contacted them two months ago."
Mr Adams also asserted his republican beliefs and said the IRA is "finished".
He said: "I'm an Irish republican, I want to live in a peaceful Ireland based on equality. I have never dissociated myself from the IRA and I never will.
"But I am glad that I and others have created a peaceful and democratic way forward for everyone.
"The IRA is gone, it is finished."
Mr Adams, who was flanked by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and vice president of Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald, said that while the past needs to be dealt with, "there can be no going back".
He said: "Peace needs to be built with determination and a consistent focus. That remains my attention, my commitment and Sinn Fein's constant endeavour.
"I bear no animosity to anyone. I have no wish to be treated differently from anyone else. I'm an activist. This is my life, and I am philosophical and I understand that I have detractors and opponents.
"And I especially understand that there are sinister elements who are against the change that Sinn Fein and others are committed to achieving."