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Britain to Grant Extension to Northern Ireland Government - 2001-09-21

Britain is poised to grant another extension to the coalition government in Northern Ireland in hopes of reviving the drawn-out peace process there.

Britain faces a deadline of midnight Saturday to announce its next move on how to keep the Northern Ireland peace process on track.

Several contentious issues continue to divide the pro-British unionist parties and the politicians known as republicans, who want Northern Ireland to join the Irish republic.

The top priority for the unionists is the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army. Republicans want the police force reformed and British troop levels cut ahead of disarmament.

The IRA says it is ready to step up negotiations with an international disarmament commission, but the unionists are demanding action and not words.

The dispute over IRA weapons led to the resignation in July of the senior unionist politician in Northern Ireland, David Trimble, sparking a political crisis.

British officials say the IRA is under new pressure to lay down its weapons following the terrorist attacks in the United States last week.

In the words of Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid, the attacks "have ushered in a much colder wind of intolerance of anything associated with terrorism."

Secretary Reid is expected to announce another brief suspension of the provincial government, which will give the parties six more weeks to work on their differences.

He did the same thing in August, but most of the time since has passed without progress.

However, two unionist parties announced late Thursday they will join a commission to oversee police reforms. The pro-Irish Sinn Fein party has turned down two seats on the board, saying the proposals do not go far enough.