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N. Irish hardliners make poll gains

Trimble has fought off repeated leadership challenges within his party  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Irish Protestant hardliners scored gains in the UK general election, threatening moderate supporters of the 1998 peace accord.

There was also speculation on Friday that the Upper Bann seat of UUP leader David Trimble, the first minister of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, was in danger of being taken by the Democratic Unionist Party led by the Rev. Ian Paisley.

Nigel Dodds of the hardline Protestant Democratic Unionist Party won Belfast North with a majority of just over 6,380 from the incumbent Ulster Unionist Party candidate. "This is one in the eye for Mr Trimble," Dodds said.

"It is a victory for those who want fair, accountable and decent government in Northern Ireland, and who don't want to share power with gunmen."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams retained his seat of West Belfast with a majority of almost 20,000 votes -- up from a majority of almost 8,000 in the 1997 election when he won his seat.

Northern Ireland has 18 seats in the national parliament in London.

Adams, a key figure in the Northern Irish process, refuses to swear loyalty to Queen Elizabeth or take his seat in the parliamentary chamber in protest against Britain's retention of sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

He said it was "a resounding vote" for the Good Friday peace accord, signed in 1998 after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) halted its anti-British war.

Adams said: "We have to make sure the Good Friday Agreement works."

He spoke to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier on Friday and warned the policing and demilitarisation issues had to be sorted out when new negotiations get under way later this month.

He said: "There is a large section of our people who cannot be ignored and Mr Trimble has to face up to his responsibilities and behave like a First Minister.

"People have endorsed our vision of tomorrow - an Ireland free from the shackles of the union with Britain."

The Rev Martin Smyth also retained his Ulster Unionist seat in south Belfast with an increased majority.

• Northern Ireland Office
• Northern Ireland Executive
• Ulster Unionist Party
• Sinn Fein
• D U P

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