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Public backs Trimble in N. Ireland poll

Trimble faces a fight on Friday to win his old job back.  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- People in Northern Ireland back David Trimble's re-election bid as Stormont first minister 2-to-1 following the Irish Republican Army's disarmament, according to a opinion poll on the eve of the vote.

As the Ulster Unionist Party leader prepares for Friday's vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly that will decide the fate of the devolved administration, the survey showed a majority of Catholics and Protestants support his return to office.

But the answers given by more than 1,000 people also highlighted serious doubts among Protestants over the decommissioning announced by the IRA.

According to the Belfast Telegraph poll, 54 percent of those questioned think Trimble is justified in seeking reinstatement as head of the power-sharing regime.

This compares with 27 percent who believe his actions are unjustified.

Concerns over the IRA's decommissioning have not been allayed among Protestants questioned.

Some 52 percent of them say they do not believe decommissioning chief General John de Chastelain's report, compared with an overwhelming majority of Catholics who believe it is a "significant" development.

UK begins N.Ireland pullback 
IRA statement 

Although 78 percent of Catholics want future disarmament left with the decommissioning body, 59 percent of Protestants believe Trimble should pull out of the Stormont executive again if the IRA does not make further weapons moves.

The figures were released as Ulster Unionists waited to find out how two of their dissident assembly members -- Peter Weir and Pauline Armitage -- will vote in the re-election of a first minister and deputy first minister.

Progress in the Good Friday agreement might hang on a single vote. Trimble must win two majority votes, one in the pro-"united Ireland," nationalist block, the other in the pro-Britain unionist side.

Weir and Armitage have met with de Chastelain to gain more information on what IRA weapons he had seen being put beyond use.

Their support is crucial if Trimble is to gain the majority unionist backing crucial to his plans and prevent the Stormont institutions being plunged into crisis.

Both have so far refused to reveal if they have been sufficiently persuaded to endorse his return to government with Sinn Fein.

Trimble quit as first minister in protest at what he called the IRA's refusal to disarm.

But last week the IRA announced it had begun decommissioning, a move Trimble declared as historic for the peace process.

The UUP leader needs the votes of 50 percent plus one of all the members in the chamber -- unionists and nationalists -- in the ballot.

There are a total of 58 Protestant assembly members in the 108-seat chamber and Trimble needs 55 votes to be reinstated.

-- CNN's Tom Bogdanowicz contributed to this report.


• UK scales down N. Irish security
October 25, 2001
• IRA begins disarming
October 23, 2001
• UK begins N. Ireland pullback
October 24, 2001
• Decommissioning move welcomed
October 23, 2001
• Key unionists back IRA arms move
October 27, 2001
• Unionists quit assembly
October 18, 2001

• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Good Friday Agreement
• Ulster Unionist Party

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