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Queen is attacked as `foolish' by Paisley

THE QUEEN was included in the Rev Ian Paisley's comprehensive list of targets at the opening news conference of the Belfast assembly elections campaign yesterday when he criticised her and described her as "very foolish''.

His remarks caused the first skirmish of the campaign. The Ulster Unionists, led by David Trimble, immediately accused him of negativity and of "losing it more and more as every day passes". The Alliance Party said he had "hit a new low''.

Mr Paisley's comments may not go down well with his traditional supporters, who are generally fiercely defensive of the Royal Family. The Democratic Unionist party leader said that the Government was using the monarchy in support of the Good Friday agreement, which he opposes.

"The Queen has no political voice, her voice is the voice of her masters and, of course, she has become the parrot. She is very foolish to do what she's doing and I don't think the people of Northern Ireland will take kindly to it,'' he said.

Buckingham Palace said the only comment the Queen had made was at the time of the agreement, when she said she shared delight about the accord.

Mr Paisley's many targets yesterday included the media and polling organisations which he accused of "colossal" deception: "You people carried out a coercion of the minds and hearts of the Ulster people," he told reporters. "This campaign reeked of the same stench as came from Germany in the rise of fascism.''

Saying he had been satisfied with the referendum result, he added: "The press reported that I was very miserable-looking. That's an absolute lie. I was very happy.''

He and other DUP members signalled a toning-down of the party's line, moving it away from the apocalyptic pre-referendum warnings to a less unremittingly negative approach tailored for the assembly campaign. "We're not wreckers, we're savers," he declared, saying they would work "constructively, peacefully, constitutionally and democratically" within the assembly.

Mr Trimble's party last night decided not to permit one of its MPs, Geoffrey Donaldson, who had been against the agreement, to stand in the assembly elections. Mr Donaldson, the party's youngest MP and often mentioned as a possible future leader, said he was "disappointed'' but would accept the decision, which was taken at a meeting of party officers. The move was seen as a sign of growing confidence among Trimble loyalists after the strong yes vote in the referendum.

The party leadership suffered a setback, however, when its South Antrim association picked an opponent of the agreement as one of its two assembly candidates. John Hunter, a barrister, has made no secret of his anti-accord stand. He said the selections showed that democracy was alive and well within the party, adding that he had made his views absolutely clear to the selection meeting, with a large number of delegates obviously supporting them.

Similar selection meetings are to take place all over Northern Ireland in the next two weeks. Mr Trimble hopes to ensure that as many as possible of those selected will back his pro-agreement line.