28/11/2003

Final counts underway but Trimble declares election 'stalemate'

Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble has declared the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections a "stalemate".

Although the final few results were yet to be anounced on Friday afternoon the Upper Bann MP said: "We could all be back here in six months time."

The deputy leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, whose party appears to be the largest in the election held in Wednesday, declared that Northern Ireland had entered a "post-Belfast Agreement phase". He said that the Unionist electorate had made their wishes clear and reitorated his party's stance that it would not negotiate with Sinn Fein.

However, former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon demanded to know what changes the DUP wished to impose on the pro-agreement parties and said that the important issue was to maintain the structures agreed under the Good Friday Agreement.

As counting proceeded this afternoon, over three-quarters of the seats for the 108-seat Assembly had been declared.

The early lead established by the Democratic Unionist Party, rapidly prompted hard liners within the Ulster Unionist Party, in particular Jeffery Donaldson, to renew their criticism of the Ulster Unionist Party's pro-agreement leadership stance of former First Minister David Trimble. But by later afternoon the gap between the two had closed dramatically with only a few seats left to be decided.

The SDLP led by former Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan have fared much worse than many expected. This was blamed on the retirement of the party's old guard and some encroachment into their vote share by Sinn Fein. The SDLP nevertheless managed to pick up several seats today, but will for the first time be in second place to rivals Sinn Fein.

The British Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart are to discuss the election results later today when they meet in Cardiff.

(SP)

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