Blair and Ahern in effort to shore up Trimble's leadership

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, held talks in Sweden yesterday in a new attempt to save the faltering Northern Ireland peace process.

The two prime ministers discussed a plan by Mr Blair to launch another round of talks with the Northern Ireland political parties to prevent the resignation of David Trimble as the province's First Minister. He has said he will quit on 1 July unless the IRA acts to put its weapons beyond use.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern, who met at a summit of European Union leaders in Gothenburg, were expected to agree that negotiations should be launched in the week before 1 July. The talks, likely to take place in Belfast, would be delayed until after the annual general meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party's ruling council on 23 June, at which Mr Trimble's leadership may be challenged by one of his hardline critics.

Sinn Fein is expected to insist that discussions include reforms to the police in Northern Ireland and a scaling down of the British military presence.

Yesterday British officials played down suggestions that the Good Friday Agreement was on the brink of collapse and that the power-sharing executive may be suspended.

However, Mr Trimble left Mr Blair in no doubt about the extent of the crisis when he visited Downing Street on Tuesday. He urged the Prime Minister not to be sucked into "bogus" negotiation with republicans over arms, and blamed the Government for last week's electoral gains by hardline parties on both sides of the religious divide ­ Sinn Fein and the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party.

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