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Trimble set for new N.I. vote

Writing on the wall -- but the peace process is still beset by problems
Writing on the wall -- but the peace process is still beset by problems  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Members of Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly will try again on Tuesday to elect Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble as its first minister.

Plans for a vote on Monday were foiled when hardline unionists lodged a petition opposing the vote, demanding that the UK government call fresh elections to the assembly instead. The poll was delayed for at least 24 hours as a result.

But a legal bid to stop a vote for first minister going ahead at all was thrown out in Belfast's high court, with pro-Good Friday peace agreement assembly members ready to try to elect Trimble again on Tuesday.

Trimble failed in his first attempt to be re-elected to the post on Friday, but he was boosted over the weekend when members of the non-sectarian Alliance Party agreed to be designated as unionists in order to help him.

To gain re-election, Trimble must win the backing of both the unionist and nationalist sections of the assembly.

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In the vote on Friday, he won the support of all nationalists, but two members of his own party, angered by his support for Irish Republican Army moves to decommission weapons, voted against him, thwarting his re-election.

On Monday, anti-agreement unionists led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lodged an assembly petition blocking the new election for first minister, delaying the poll for 24 hours.

They argued that the move by the Alliance Party was illegal and also sought a judicial review in Belfast's High Court. The DUP says Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid was under an obligation to call new elections to the assembly after Trimble lost Friday's vote.

But the DUP's legal move was dismissed in Belfast's High Court after a lawyer for Reid said the Northern Ireland secretary accepted he was under an obligation to propose a date for fresh assembly elections.

Trimble is seeking re-election, while SDLP leader in waiting Mark Durkan is standing for the post of Deputy First Minister.

Despite the delayed vote, Education Minister Martin McGuinness, deputy leader of republican Sinn Fein, said he was confident the first minister and deputy first minister would be elected in the next few days.

The latest developments follow frantic political talks between the various pro-agreement parties on Saturday, with the independent Alliance Party eventually agreeing to redesignate some of its five votes, helping to salvage the assembly.

Alliance Party leader David Ford said "an adequate number" of its five delegates would vote for Trimble, an act he said was intended to save the peace process -- not Trimble's job.

The Alliance Party is aligned with neither the Protestant unionist nor mainly Catholic nationalist parties which dominate Northern Ireland's politics.

Ford had put forward proposals to reform the assembly's complicated voting system in return for his party's five votes.

Trimble, who resigned in July in protest at the Irish Republican Army's refusal to disarm by then, sought re-election after the IRA's breakthrough decision last week to begin getting rid of weapons.


• N.I. assembly looks to new vote
November 4, 2001
• Trimble loses key N.Ireland vote
November 2, 2001
• Public backs Trimble in N. Ireland poll
November 2, 2001
• UK scales down N. Irish security
October 25, 2001
• IRA begins disarming
October 23, 2001
• Unionists quit assembly
October 18, 2001

• Northern Ireland Assembly
• Good Friday Agreement
• Alliance Party

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