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Northern Ireland's Trimble Urges Party to Stay United

Peace: Disarmament issue could cause collapse, leader says.

November 18, 2001|From Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The Protestant leader of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government urged his party Saturday not to succumb to divisions over Irish Republican Army disarmament.

The issue has been an obstacle to Northern Irish peacemaking for years, and nearly caused the collapse of the joint Roman Catholic-Protestant assembly when two dissident members of David Trimble's party blocked his initial bid for reelection as the legislature's top official.

Speaking at the annual conference of his Ulster Unionist Party, Trimble urged members to leave the question of disarmament for now to the commission headed by Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.

"We will be content to leave it to de Chastelain to fulfill his mandate," Trimble said. "It will become an issue if nothing happens."

Trimble urged his party not tear itself apart over the issue.

"I caution those who want everything done immediately," he said. "Only the enemies of Ulster Unionism will benefit from this internal factionalism."

The IRA began scrapping its weapons last month. That prompted Trimble, who had resigned his post as head of the power-sharing legislature in protest of the banned group's earlier failure to disarm, to say he would rejoin the government.

But two hard-line members of his own party, reluctant to participate in a legislature that included the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, blocked his bid for reelection. The move nearly caused the assembly's collapse, until members of a neutral party realigned so they could support Trimble.

Trimble slammed the dissidents.

"We cannot continue in this selfish, self-destructive manner," he said. "When we should be celebrating a victory, when we should be preparing policies of government for our people, we are thrown into internal conflict."

"There is an emotionalism which rails against reality for reasons it dare not articulate," he continued. "Behind it there is a manipulation that does not serve the interests of this party."

Meanwhile, Catholics and Protestants clashed on the streets of North Belfast on Saturday afternoon, throwing gas bombs and other missiles, police said.

There were about 100 people on each side in the crowd, and many turned on police who tried to keep them apart.

Some civilians were believed to be injured, police said, but they did not know how many or how badly they were hurt.

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