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Northern Ireland Agrees to Save Power-Sharing Deal

The British and Irish prime ministers unveiled a breakthrough agreement in Northern Ireland Friday that saves the province's peacemaking coalition government of Catholics and Protestants.

Gordon Brown and his Irish counterpart, Brian Cowen, met in Belfast after the Democratic Unionists, the region's main Protestant party, reached an agreement with Sinn Fein, the major Irish Catholic party, on transferring policing and judiciary powers from London to Belfast.

The transfer of powers to the local government is scheduled to take place by April 12.

Prime Minister Brown said the accord is the opening of a "new chapter" in Northern Ireland's history.

Sinn Fein had threatened to quit the power-sharing government during nearly two weeks of talks with the Protestants, who wanted guarantees that they would not be restricted from holding parades celebrating 17th-century battle victories. Some of those parades pass through Catholic neighborhoods, which the Catholics call a deliberate provocation.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the agreement, calling it another important step toward "lasting peace." Clinton, who said she has been in regular contact with the negotiators, applauded both parties for choosing "negotiation over confrontation."

Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, is credited with helping to broker the original peace deal in 1998, called the Good Friday Agreement, that helped end decades of deadly sectarian violence.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.