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Britain to Offer Final Deal on Northern Ireland, if Negotiations Fail


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will offer a "take it, or leave it" deal to Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant leaders, if a pact to revive a provincial power-sharing government is not reached by mid-day Friday.

A Blair spokesman says London will put forward its best proposal to reconcile differences at bilateral talks in Scotland. Britain has already warned it will formally resume direct rule of Northern Ireland if a November 24 deadline for a deal is missed.

Catholic politicians and their rival Protestant counterparts entered a second day of crucial talks Thursday, with no sign of a compromise.

Protestant Democratic Unionist hard-liners remain opposed to sharing power with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Negotiators also are seeking to overcome Roman Catholic opposition to Northern Ireland's Protestant-dominated police force. Observers say neither side wants to be the first to compromise.

The Northern Ireland assembly has been suspended since 2002.

Earlier this week, anti-Catholic Protestant leader Ian Paisley held talks for the first time with the head of the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland. Analysts widely interpreted the meeting as a sign of Protestant willingness to forge a power-sharing deal.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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