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Scuffles as Trimble wins N.I. vote

Scuffles broke out as Trimble attempted to hold a news conference  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has succeeded in his bid to be re-elected as first minister of Northern Ireland's power sharing assembly, sparking angry scenes in Belfast.

There were scuffles between anti-Good Friday peace agreement unionists and pro-agreement politicians as Trimble held a news conference to hail his victory in the main hall of the Belfast building which houses the assembly.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members shouted "traitor" and "cheat" and a scuffle broke out between the DUP's Paul Berry and the Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) Alasdair McDonnell, according to the UK Press Association.

There was further angry jostling between members of the anti-agreement DUP and the republican Sinn Fein, with Sinn Fein Chief Whip Alex Maskey having to be restrained by party colleagues, said PA.

The election came after two earlier attempts to re-elect Trimble failed amid opposition from hardline unionists.

CNN's Diana Muriel reports of a scuffle amid the re-election of David Trimble as first minister of Northern Ireland by a slim majority of unionists (November 6)

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The incoming leader of the nationalist SDLP Mark Durkan, was voted in as deputy first minister of the assembly.

Both Trimble and Durkan succeeded in securing support from a majority of those assembly members designated as unionists and a majority of those designated as nationalists.

A total of 99 assembly members voted in the first and deputy first minister poll, with 60 unionists taking part, including three members of the independent Alliance Party who redesignated themselves as unionists in order to help Trimble, sparking anger from hardline unionists.

In the vote, 31 unionist assembly members backed Trimble and Durkan to fill the posts -- 51.7 percent of those present, with 29 unionists opposing him.

All 38 nationalists present voted in favour of the Trimble and Durkan.

The pair failed in a bid to get elected in the assembly last Friday because two members of Trimble's own Ulster Unionist party failed to support him.

Anti-Good Friday Agreement unionists, led by the DUP, had delayed Tuesday's vote by 24 hours on Monday after lodging a "petition of concern."

But they failed to prevent it altogether with a legal bid at the high court in Belfast. The call to force the UK Government to call new elections to the whole 108-seat assembly body was thrown out by the court, which said ministers had discretion over when to call a fresh poll.

The party tried again to delay the vote with a new petition on Tuesday, but it was rejected by Assembly Speaker Lord Alderdice.

The DUP's attempts to call new elections and stop the election for first minister brought it criticism from across the political divide in Northern Ireland.

Trimble accused the party of "doing anything they can think of, turning to every trick in the book" in order to try to frustrate what he said was the clear wish of the greater number of Assembly members and people in Northern Ireland.

Durkan said: "Remember among the people trying hardest to prevent the election of first and deputy first ministers were people who couldn't contain themselves when they were taking ministerial office just a few days ago."

Trimble: Blamed "dishonourable" party colleagues for his defeat in the first vote  

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who is also Stormont's Education Minister, claimed hardline unionists had been outflanked.

He said: "The DUP are very determined to bring down the Good Friday Agreement and have, on this occasion, been outmanoeuvred by the pro-agreement parties. But we have to continue doing that."

Last Friday Trimble failed by one unionist vote to be elected when two Ulster Unionists -- Pauline Armitage and Peter Weir -- defied party instructions and rebelled to vote against him.

The election of first minister will revive a peace process that flared back to life last month when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began decommissioning its arms.

Durkan admitted that the way the election was being held was not "the most edifying exercise."

But he added: "When one considers that the alternative would have been to allow this assembly to go under because of a switch by two people defying the whip of their own party, then I think people would find that even harder to understand."


• Trimble set for new N.I. vote
November 5, 2001
• 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

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