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Trimble Regains Leadership of N. Ireland Government - 2001-11-06


The Northern Ireland assembly has re-elected moderate unionist leader David Trimble as chief of the province's power-sharing government. The move follows months of crisis for Northern Ireland's peace process.

Mr. Trimble has been restored as senior minister in Northern Ireland after a controversial legal maneuver in the provincial assembly.

Northern Ireland politics is fractured along sectarian lines. Republican and nationalist parties representing the minority Catholic community have a long-term goal of joining the Irish republic. Unionist politicians from the majority Protestant community favor continued union with Britain.

Under the complex rules of the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement, Mr. Trimble needed majority support of both Catholic and Protestant lawmakers.

He got all of the Catholic votes and a slim majority of the Protestant votes after three neutral lawmakers joined the voting bloc for the key ballot.

The same vote installed Mark Durkin, a moderate Catholic, as Mr. Trimble's deputy.

Mr. Trimble lost a vote Friday when two members of his own Ulster Unionist Party defected to the anti-Trimble camp, led by Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party.

A shoving match broke out between pro and anti-Trimble lawmakers in the lobby of the assembly as Mr. Trimble spoke to reporters following his re-election. He said he will not bow to intimidation. "We will continue the work and we will not allow ourselves to be distracted by the sort of mob violence that certain parties descend to," he said.

Reverend Paisley accused the Trimble forces of resorting to vote-rigging. The Trimble vote has magnified divisions among the Protestants over the 1998 peace agreement.

Mr. Trimble leads moderates who want to push the peace process forward. But unionist hardliners led by Reverend Paisley object to sharing power with former guerrillas of the Irish Republican Army.