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Renewed Violence Further Threatens Peace Talks on Northern Ireland - 2001-07-13

Violence in Belfast has overshadowed the resumption of Northern Ireland peace talks, which are aimed at breaking the impasse over paramilitary disarmament.

The British and Irish Prime Ministers are resuming their last-ditch effort to avert another political crisis in Northern Ireland. The fourth round of talks with political leaders involved in the peace process is being held at a secluded mansion in northern England.

The leaders are trying to break the deadlock over disarming the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as well as police reforms and the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland.

The Protestant head of the power-sharing government in Belfast resigned over the IRA disarmament dispute. If he is not reinstated or replaced by mid-August, Britain will have to organize new elections or suspend home rule for Belfast.

Republicans complain there has not been enough progress on reforming the police force to increase the representation of Catholics among the police officers.

When the talks ended on Wednesday, republicans and unionists were blaming each other for the impasse. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is determined to carry on because, he says, there is no alternative to the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.

The peace effort comes at a critical time for Northern Ireland. Violence has marred the traditional Protestant marching season. Tensions are running high in both Catholic and Protestant communities, which are losing confidence in the fragile peace process.

The talks could continue through the weekend.