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Britain Suspends N. Ireland's Power-Sharing Government - 2002-10-14


Britain is suspending the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland as of midnight local time Monday, amid a spy scandal that has rocked the province. The coalition government that included Catholic and Protestant politicians was a cornerstone of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

The British secretary for Northern Ireland, John Reid, said he is suspending self-rule in the province to give local politicians some time to try to rebuild confidence.

This is the fourth time London has resumed direct rule over the long-troubled province, since the coalition government was formed under terms of a 1998 peace accord.

This crisis stems from allegations that the primarily Catholic Sinn Fein party was spying on the British government for the paramilitary Irish Republican Army, which has fought since the 1970s to end British rule over Northern Ireland.

Mr. Reid rejected demands from leaders of parties that are pro-British and predominately Protestant that he expel Sinn Fein ministers from the government. But he did warn Sinn Fein to break its ties with the IRA. "The recent difficulties in Northern Ireland stem from the loss of confidence and loss of trust on both sides of the community. In particular, it is essential that concerns about the commitment to exclusively democratic and non-violent means are removed. The time has come for people to face up to that choice between violence and democracy," Mr. Reid said.

Sinn Fein continues to deny any wrongdoing in the spy affair, while its leader Gerry Adams warns a prolonged period of rule from London could lead to more violence. "Whatever fear there is there, is because people fear a lengthy vacuum opening up, and that this will all be encouragement to the anti-agreement paramilitary organizations," Mr. Adams said.

In announcing the suspension, Mr. Reid did not indicate how long London intends to run the Northern Ireland government, but he said elections in the province are still planned for next May.

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