BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- A British move to temporarily strip power from Northern Ireland's unraveling unity government took effect Saturday, buying time to salvage the peace process but infuriating IRA backers, who hinted that recent disarmament pledges might be shelved.
Britain had announced Friday that it would wrest authority from the province's administration and its underlying legislature, then hand it back Sunday.
The maneuver exploits a loophole in legislation created to help administer the province following the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace accord.
The experimental coalition established by the peace accord was designed to be a Roman Catholic-Protestant unity government. Saturday was supposed to be the deadline for the legislature to elect a Protestant to the top post in the administration -- a decision being boycotted by Protestants who are demanding the Irish Republican Army disarm.
The British maneuver means that crucial vote won't be required until late September, leaving six more weeks for negotiations.
"We are, I believe, tantalizingly close to being in a different world here in Northern Ireland. I believe parties should be given more time," said John Reid, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, who announced the move after weeks of increasingly tense diplomacy.
The crisis began when the Ulster Unionists, Northern Ireland's major Protestant party, refused to continue sharing power with the Sinn Fein party as long as Sinn Fein's partner, the IRA, refused to start disarming. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble resigned six weeks ago as the administration's Protestant leader, triggering the political crisis.
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