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Unionists to present demands on Ulster

IAN PAISLEY, the Ulster Unionist leader, last night spoke of his 'unconquerable spirit' after beginning historic talks with the Irish and British governments on the future of Northern Ireland, amid tight security in London.

Mr Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, will deliver their demands to the talks today, including a power-sharing assembly based on electoral strengths, and repeal of the Irish constitutional claim to the province.

Government sources denied that Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had given a commitment to accept the Unionists' plan for devolved power, in a letter to Mr Molyneaux leaked at the weekend. 'We've bought nothing yet,' one source said.

The meaning of Mr Paisley's words shouted through the window of his car as he left may be unclear, but it suggests he intends little in the way of compromise.

In a joint statement, John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, reaffirmed their commitment to replace the Anglo-Irish agreement if agreement could be found. The two did not attend the meeting.

Police mounted a security cordon around the summit between Irish ministers, the British Government, Ulster Unionist leaders, the Alliance party and the SDLP at Lancaster House - the scene of the successful Rhodesia negotiations in 1980.

The first session, under the independent chairmanship of Sir Ninian Stephen, former governor- general of Australia, lasted three and a half hours. After a further session today, the talks are due to continue tomorrow morning before being reconvened in Belfast on 15 July.

Sir Patrick said before yesterday's opening session: 'It's the first time for 70 years. We are all delighted and very much impressed . . . I very much hope that everybody will prove up to the scale of events and that we will enter into this second stage in a very sensible and workmanlike way. I am very confident that we will.'

The party leaders have been sworn to secrecy over the talks' progress. Asked to describe the flavour of the first day, John Wilson, Ireland's deputy prime minister, said: 'Strawberries and cream.'

(Photograph omitted)