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N. Ireland: Move to Restore Trimble Blocked - 2001-11-05

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government has again been blocked in its effort to restore David Trimble as chief minister.

British officials had worked out a legal maneuver to reinstall Mr. Trimble with support of parties committed to a 1998 peace agreement. But a petition signed by 30 hardline unionist lawmakers asked to postpone the vote. Assembly speaker John Alderdice agreed to a delay of at least 24 hours.

Mr. Trimble is the moderate leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, which wants continued union with Britain. He is trying to win back his old job as chief minister, following the recent move by the Irish Republican Army to begin disarmament.

Mr. Trimble resigned in July to protest the militia's refusal to disarm. The republicans want Northern Ireland to join Ireland.

Mr. Trimble narrowly lost re-election on Friday. He got the votes of all the republicans in the assembly, but two members of his own party voted against him. They said they suspect the IRA is not committed to destroying all its weapons.

Mr. Trimble told British radio a small minority of lawmakers wants to undermine the peace agreement. "We are dealing with a handful of malcontents, who are trying to exploit the unusual rules, the unique rules that we put into the agreement, in order to frustrate the wishes of the majority," he said. "These people are not democrats."

In a separate action outside the assembly, the High Court in Belfast rejected a legal challenge by the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party, which was seeking an injunction against the re-election of Mr. Trimble.

The court was not persuaded by the party's argument that Britain should have to call elections for a new Northern Ireland assembly.