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British Bill Sets Date for Elections, Restoration of Self-Rule in N. Ireland


The British government has announced plans for dissolving the Northern Ireland Assembly in January, with new elections weeks later to decide the make-up of a new power-sharing government.

A parliamentary bill reported Thursday proposes that elections be held in early March, and self-rule restored to the once-volatile province on March 26.

Under the bill, all parties must respect power-sharing agreements and fully support the provincial police and judicial system. The province will revert to British rule if the agreements are breached.

Last week, the British and Irish governments issued a joint statement saying significant work remained in building political trust between Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant communities. But they pledged to press on seeking an agreement that would allow the province's assembly to meet November 24 to elect Catholic and Protestant representatives to head a renewed power-sharing government.

The power-sharing government was set up in 1998 under the U.S.-brokered Good Friday agreement that largely ended three decades of deadly Catholic-Protestant violence.

However, the government was suspended in 2002, after Protestant Unionists accused the pro-Catholic Irish Republican Army of spying.

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

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