Trimble faces leadership challenge

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An Ulster Unionist MP today formally launched a challenge to the leadership of David Trimble.

The Rev Martin Smyth, who represents South Belfast, said he was acting because it was "time for more vigorous promotion of Ulster Unionist policies than all the in-fighting that is going on, because of the departure from it."

The former Orange Order Grand Master of Ireland said he had the backing of a number of people in the party and would be producing supporters at a press conference in Belfast tomorrow.

Mr Smyth said he did not know if he would be the only challenger to Mr Trimble's leadership at Saturday's crucial meeting of the party's 858-member council.

He said he was confident that he would poll significantly in the leadership contest at the meeting, saying he had a "50-50 chance" unless other candidates came forward.

Mr Smyth told BBC Radio Ulster: "I believe that we want to see a form of devolution in Northern Ireland, accountable to the people, and in that sense free from every pressure of terrorist campaigning.

"My attitude to Sinn Fein would be the one I had six and a half years ago when I made it abundantly plain that if they go down the road of parliamentary democracy, there would be many folk who would be prepared to debate with them and recognise them as a bone fide political party, but that meant there would be no arms.

"They have wasted six and a half precious years, (there has been) loss of life, property and they still have not been prepared to go forth as bone fide democrats and are hiding behind the figment of imagination that they actually cannot speak for the IRA when we all know that they are an inseparable body."