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UK worried by Irelandís hardline surge

Belfast, Nov. 28 (Reuters): Britainís worst-case scenario in Northern Irelandís election loomed today as hardline Protestants opposed to a 1998 peace pact and their Catholic foes allied to IRA guerrillas, both made strong gains.

If final results confirm the trend, a new political coalition for a quick return to home rule looks unlikely and the Assembly that is the centrepiece of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement may stay empty for a long time.

London and Dublin had hoped moderates would continue to hold sway in the much-delayed poll, making it easier to revive the Assembly. Instead, fiery cleric Ian Paisleyís Democratic Unionist Party and the IRAís political ally Sinn Fein squared up as the top choices of Protestant and Catholic voters respectively.

London has been ruling the province directly since the provinceís self-governing assembly of Protestant and Catholic parties collapsed last year in a row over IRA spying.

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