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Protestants May Split Belfast Coalition

N. Ireland: The Ulster Unionists say the IRA must renounce violence to maintain government.

September 22, 2002|From Times Wire Services

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The major Protestant party here announced Saturday that it will shut down the joint Catholic-Protestant government--the central achievement of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement--if the Irish Republican Army doesn't demonstrate within four months that it has renounced violence.

First Minister David Trimble, boxed into a corner by the hard-line wing of his Ulster Unionist Party, said he will immediately withdraw from some power-sharing bodies with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA.

He also said he will order his party out of government entirely in January if its concerns about violence and lack of progress in the peace process are not addressed.

Trimble said he had agreed to the tough stance after what he called an "appalling" summer of violence in Belfast, which he said was orchestrated in part by Sinn Fein. He made the announcement at a news conference with Jeffrey Donaldson, his main hard-line critic within the party.

Unionists say they have yet to see a "peace dividend" while alleging that republican hard-liners, led by Sinn Fein, continue to engage in paramilitary activity in the British province--an allegation that Sinn Fein denies.

Sinn Fein and the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party criticized Trimble's move as likely to collapse their shared government.

"Today's victory for the [anti-Good Friday] camp will not deter us and will not stop the process of change," said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

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