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Trimble loses key N.Ireland vote

Trimble blamed
Trimble blamed "dishonourable" party colleagues for his defeat  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- David Trimble has failed in his bid to be re-elected leader of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive, causing a fresh crisis in the area's troubled peace process.

Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, was backed by nationalists in the assembly but two rebels from his own party joined anti-Good Friday Agreement unionists to defeat his bid to return to office.

He had needed a majority of both nationalist and unionist members in the 108 seat assembly to be returned to office with incoming SDLP leader Mark Durkan as his deputy.

But UUP backbenchers Peter Weir and Pauline Armitage blocked their party leader's move because of their concerns about IRA weapons decommissioning and unionist members voted 30-29 against him. Trimble said the two had acted "dishonourably."

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The UK government must now decide by Saturday night whether to suspend the assembly or call fresh elections and Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid was holding urgent talks with all the province's pro-agreement parties on Friday night.

Reid said he was hopeful the situation could be resolved, but admitted the vote was a setback to peace hopes.

After the result was announced, both Martin McGuinness of the republican party Sinn Fein and hardline unionist Dr Ian Paisley called for immediate elections.

Democratic Unionist leader Paisley said: "We need democracy re-established at Stormont." He added: "At long last we have given them the bloody nose they deserve for those who took part in the charade of decommissioning."

But a defiant Trimble said the decision was "in no way final."

"Last week we were on a remarkable high with the beginning to decommissioning.

"But over the years we have had our ups and downs and one should not regard today's decision in being in any way final. It is not.

"This process is not ended."

The UUP leader called on the people of Northern Ireland "not to lose heart" over the decision. "Don't despair of the process. We will carry things forward, " he pledged.

Trimble angrily denounced the two assembly members from his party who switched sides, saying they had behaved "dishonourably" by ignoring a party mandate.

He accused them of "exploiting the situation" and called them part of "a small, unrepresentative clique" that sought to "frustrate the wishes of the community as a whole."

One of the two who denied Trimble his job, UUP rebel Peter Weir said he had put the interests of the country ahead of his party's by voting against Trimble.

The North Down MLA said: "I have no intention to leave for another party or going anywhere.

"My bonds are to the party are strong, as I am sure Pauline's are, but I have got to put my bonds to the country before self interest."

Stormont Education Minister McGuinness said Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government now faced a difficult decision but elections were needed.

"In the wake of today's result it is incumbent upon the British Government to give the electorate their say," the Mid Ulster MP declared afterwards.

"The democratic wishes of the vast majority of the people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement must be given precedence. The British Government must respond to today's result by holding fresh Assembly elections.

Trimble and Durkan's bid to become First and Deputy First Ministers attracted 100 percent support from nationalists but 49.2 percent of unionists.

It needed just over half of nationalist MLAs and just over half of unionist MLAs to succeed.

The Women's Coalition's redesignation of its two Assembly members, Jane Morrice and Monica McWilliams as a unionist and a nationalist respectively failed.

Trimble faced dissent from within his own ranks after he supported last week's announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that it had decommissioned some of its weapons.

Weir and Armitage have met General John de de Chastelain, the head of an independent panel overseeing the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, to gain more information on what IRA arms he had seen being put beyond use.

Trimble resigned as first minister in July saying the IRA had refused to disarm.

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

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

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


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

• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Good Friday Agreement

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