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Leaders finalise N. Irish plan

Blair and Ahern
Blair says proposals finalised with Ahern can overcome the objections of all sides  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The British and Irish prime ministers have met to finalise a deal to rescue the Good Friday Agreement.

The Northern Ireland peace process was teetering on the brink following Ulster Unionist demands to scrap the devolved institutions.

The two prime ministers were meeting in Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency in County Durham on Friday.

The meeting came amid a fresh crisis following a declaration by two leading Protestant legislators that Ulster Unionists should withdraw from the current negotiations.

After Friday's meeting, the two premiers acknowledged the difficulties they faced as they seek to resolve the current disputes over implementation of the agreement.

The package aimed at rescuing the agreement will be presented to Northern Ireland's political parties next week, Blair said.

Details of the proposals to break the latest impasse will be published the same day, the prime minister said.

Blair called on the pro-agreement parties to avoid "knee-jerk" reactions.

"I ask the political parties in responding to them to consider them carefully," he said.

But Mr Blair said he believed the proposals finalised with Mr Ahern could overcome the objections of all sides.

Mr Ahern added: "This has been our best effort on this. I hope the parties give them their support and work with them as best as they possibly can."

Northern Ireland has seen a series of violent outbreaks in recent weeks, applying pressure on Britain, the Irish Republic and politicians from the Protestant majority and Catholic minority to revive the stalled peace process.

• Good Friday Agreement
• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Northern Ireland Office
• British Prime Minister
• Irish Prime Minister

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