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N.Irish talks amid growing tension

Blair and Ahern
Blair and Ahern will meet at Downing St  

LONDON, England -- Britain's prime minister and his Irish counterpart say now is the time for all sides in Northern Ireland to resolve their differences.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were meeting in London on Wednesday to try to shore up the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that established a power-sharing agreement.

The talks were overshadowed by violence and come just days before the climax of the Protestant marching season. Earlier on Wednesday a Protestant paramilitary group has claimed responsibility for the killing of a Roman Catholic man in Northern Ireland.

A caller to a Belfast TV newsroom said the loyalist Red Hand Defenders shot dead 19-year-old Ciaran Cummings on Wednesday morning in Antrim, the Associated Press reported.

The latest sectarian violence comes as British and Irish leaders prepare to meet to discuss the current impasse in the peace process,

An announcement from the Northern Ireland Parades Commission on whether it will block Sunday's parade by Drumcree Orangemen on the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown was due later on Wednesday.

Blair stepped up pressure on Irish Republican Army guerrillas earlier on Wednesday, saying they must disarm now if the peace process for Northern Ireland is to move forward.

"There has always been a point right from the beginning of this process when people have to choose between the democratic process, and having alongside, a paramilitary organisation that is still capable of exerting force and pressure of an unacceptable kind," Blair told parliament.

"That moment of choice is here and now."

Mr Ahern admitted it would not be easy for all sides to reach agreement.

Arriving at Blair's official residence in Downing Street Ahern said he hoped he and Blair would be able to lay the ground for further talks next week.

He added that they would be looking at all the issues, including policing, decommissioning and stability of the institutions.

"There is an obligation on everybody to try to make as much progress as possible over the next week," the Press Association reported Mr Ahern saying.

"We all have the responsibility to try and avoid a disaster situation by not completing this agreement.

"It won't be easy but we will do as much as we can to succeed."

Northern Ireland's parties have six weeks to agree on decommissioning, policing, and demilitarisation in order to secure David Trimble and Seamus Mallon's re-election in the Assembly as first and deputy first ministers.

Trimble quit as Northern Ireland first minister on July 1 because of what he said was lack of progress from the IRA in decommissioning weapons.

Failure to strike a deal after six weeks could result in Trimble and Mallon not being re-elected, triggering fresh Assembly elections, PA said.

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• Good Friday Agreement

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