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Hardline wins threaten N.Irish deal

Trimble has fought off repeated leadership challenges within his party  

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Northern Irish peace process is under fresh pressure after general election gains by Protestant hardliners renewed demands for IRA disarmament.

Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, which will have five MPs in the new Westminster parliament, the highest in the party's history, immediately warned Prime Minister Tony Blair the Good Friday Agreement must go.

The IRA's politicial wing Sinn Fein also pulled off dramatic triumphs in West Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

With Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams winning in West Belfast and Martin McGuinness retaining his seat in Mid Ulster, the unprecedented republican one-two-three in the west of Northern Ireland shattered John Hume's moderate nationalist SDLP by overtaking the rival nationalist party for the first time.

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, the embattled leader of Northern Ireland's joint Catholic-Protestant government, who has repeatedly survived threats to his leadership, retained his seat. Trimble was an architect of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

"In terms of the way forward and the difficult job we are engaged in, we will get it (the Good Friday Agreement) properly implemented," he told supporters.

"We are not quitters. We will stick with this job until it is done."

Former UUP security spokesman Ken Maginnis said he was disappointed that Sinn Fein had narrowly won the seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone -- which he held for 18 years before stepping down at this elelction.

Sinn Fein candidate Michelle Gildernew gained just 53 more votes than the pro-agreement UUP candidate James Cooper's 17,686.

Maginnis told CNN that following the election, the parties would be reviewing the agreement -- but not re-negotiating it.

He said people feared a return to violence because some parties were not implementing the agreement.

Lady Sylvia Hermon, UUP candidate for Northern Ireland's wealthiest district, the North Down suburbs east of Belfast, won the seat from an outspoken Protestant opponent of the 1998 pact.

She becomes the first woman to hold a Northern Ireland seat in Parliament since Catholic civil rights advocate Bernadette Devlin entered in 1969.

However, in several districts, the UUP was fighting closely with hard-line Democratic Unionists, led by the Rev. Ian Paisley.

The DUP's Nigel Dodds won Belfast North with a majority of just over 6,380 from the incumbent Ulster Unionist Party candidate.

"This is one in the eye for Mr Trimble," Dodds said.

"It is a victory for those who want fair, accountable and decent government in Northern Ireland, and who don't want to share power with gunmen."

Paisley took an easy victory in North Antrim, the seat that the anti-Catholic evangelist has held since 1970.

He led his supporters in singing hymns and a chest-thumping rendition of "God Save the Queen."

In the neighbouring electorate of East Londonderry his party's Gregory Campbell upset the area's long-sitting Ulster Unionist, William Ross, who was been hostile to Trimble and his compromising policies.

South Belfast re-elected its UUP incumbent, Martin Smyth -- but he, too, is a Trimble critic who has already tried to oust his leader once.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams retained his seat of West Belfast with a majority of almost 20,000 votes -- up from a majority of almost 8,000 in the 1997 election when he won his seat.

Northern Ireland has 18 seats in the national parliament in London.

Adams, a key figure in the Northern Irish process, refuses to swear loyalty to Queen Elizabeth or take his seat in the parliamentary chamber in protest against Britain's retention of sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

He said it was "a resounding vote" for the Good Friday peace accord, signed in 1998 after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) halted its anti-British war.

Adams said: "We have to make sure the Good Friday Agreement works."

He spoke to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier on Friday and warned the policing and demilitarisation issues had to be sorted out when new negotiations get under way later this month.

He said: "There is a large section of our people who cannot be ignored and Mr Trimble has to face up to his responsibilities and behave like a First Minister.

"People have endorsed our vision of tomorrow - an Ireland free from the shackles of the union with Britain."

The Democratic Unionists said the results demonstrated that a growing majority of Protestants was hostile to sharing power with Sinn Fein.

"Protestants are sickened at the sight of terrorists at the heart of our government. We will do everything we can to expel this cancer from the body politic," said Dodds in North Belfast, the Press Association reported.

SDLP leader John Hume, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Trimble, retained his seat representing Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Londonderry.

• Northern Ireland Office
• Northern Ireland Executive
• Ulster Unionist Party
• Sinn Fein
• D U P

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