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N. Ireland: More Time to Settle Differences


Britain says it is giving Northern Ireland politicians six more weeks to settle differences that have been threatening the troubled province's peace process.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said he wants to give another opportunity to Catholic and Protestant politicians to resolve disputes that threaten their 1998 peace agreement.

The chief controversy centers on disarmament of the Irish Republican Army.

Mr. Reid suspended the Northern Ireland assembly at midnight Friday, using a legal loophole to give the parties six more weeks to negotiate. He said the recent suicide plane attacks in the United States show why peace is so urgently needed in Northern Ireland. "The tragic events in the United States," Mr. Reid said, "while they have diverted our attention over the past couple of weeks, have also, I think, focused our minds on the question of the dangers of terrorism and anything associated with terrorism."

Political crisis has gripped Northern Ireland since July 1. That is when senior minister David Trimble resigned from the coalition government formed by Protestant and Catholic parties in 1998.

Mr. Trimble, as leader of the Protestant and pro-British Ulster Unionist Party, said he could no longer wait for the IRA to begin laying down its weapons.

The IRA has promised to step up discussions with an international disarmament commission, but the unionists say it is time for action and not words.

The IRA's political ally, the Sinn Fein party, says Britain's decision to suspend the assembly only makes a bad situation worse.