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Northern Ireland Inaugurates New Power-Sharing Government

08 May 2007

Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are resuming their power-sharing government for the first time in five years.

Northern Ireland's Assembly has begun naming a Cabinet of 12 ministers to govern. Tuesday the Assembly swore in as first minister Protestant leader Ian Paisley, and swore in as his deputy Martin McGuinness, a leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the pro-Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party won the most parliamentary seats in a March election, followed by the IRA's Sinn Fein.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, came to watch the ceremony.

Paisley said Northern Ireland was starting on a road to peace and prosperity. McGuinness called this day one of the most significant events of the peace process in 15 years.

Mr. Blair had told Catholics and Protestants to agree to form a new government by March, or Britain would dissolve the Assembly and again govern Northern Ireland as a province.

In 2002, Britain suspended the previous power-sharing government, which was part of a 1998 peace agreement, after Protestants accused the IRA of spying.

The IRA had fought a 30-year guerrilla war against the British, while Protestant militias battled to keep Northern Ireland part of Britain. In 2005, the IRA laid down its arms and agreed to recognize the Protestant-dominated police.

Northern Ireland's violence killed more than 3,700 people.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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