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Police, arms key tests for Belfast's stormy politics

President Clinton may again visit N. Ireland, where self-rule resumed overnight.

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With Northern Ireland's peace process back on track - at least for the moment - President Clinton is said to be preparing one final effort to cement the province's fractious political parties into a durable settlement.

In the past, Mr. Clinton's intervention on behalf of the London and Dublin governments has been praised by all sides in the peace process.

Word that a presidential visit was in the works emerged within hours after the Ulster Unionist Council, ruling body of the province's largest pro-British political party, voted narrowly on Saturday to resume participation in Northern Ireland's self-rule government.

The Clinton visit is expected to take place in July or September. Officials close to Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson, say it will have an important bearing on whether power sharing continues, or again collapses amid sectarian bickering and mistrust.

In February, Britain was forced to suspend the devolved government after only two months in operation. First Minister David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists (UUP), had threatened to resign over a refusal by the Irish Republican Army to begin decommissioning its weapons.

Mr. Mandelson said Saturday's breakthrough vote gave people who wanted peace "a second chance" to achieve it.

Noting that the margin of victory was a mere 53 percent to 47 percent, however, he stressed that all parties to the peace process will have to show restraint in coming weeks.

At midnight last night, Mandelson was due to hand back formal powers over most areas of political life to local leaders.

On Thursday, the 12-member Cabinet will resume work, and next Monday the Northern Ireland assembly will meet in Belfast's Stormont Castle.


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