Britain has offered Northern Ireland almost $70 billion in additional aid over the next four years, if Catholic and Protestant political leaders agree to form a power sharing government by a March 26 deadline.

British Finance Minister Gordon Brown confirmed the offer Thursday, after meeting in London with the British province's Protestant and Catholic Sinn Fein party leaders Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.

Brown said the money will be provided only if the major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, agrees to drop its opposition to power-sharing ahead of the deadline.

Britain says it will dissolve the Northern Ireland assembly and impose direct rule from London, if a deal is not reached by Monday.

A power-sharing deal would restore self-rule in Belfast, almost a decade after the 1998 Good Friday agreement that ended nearly three decades of deadly conflict in the province.

The power-sharing government was suspended in 2002 when Protestants accused the Catholic Irish Republican Army of spying. The charges were withdrawn in 2005.


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