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Saturday, April 18, 1998 Published at 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK

Trimble wins Unionist backing
image: [ The Ulster Unionist Party leader was praised by Tony Blair for his courage and detemination ]
The Ulster Unionist Party leader was praised by Tony Blair for his courage and detemination

David Trimble has won convincing backing for the Northern Ireland peace deal from his Ulster Unionist Party.

BBC correspondent, Tom Coulter examines reaction to the vote (1' 36")
The Ulster Unionist Council meeting in Belfast voted more than two to one in favour of the agreement.

[ image: Tony Blair said
Tony Blair said "tide of peace" had turned
The final outcome was 540 votes in favour of the decision and 210 against.

Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the result, which is seen as a boost for the government's campaign for a 'Yes' vote in next month's referendum.

Mr Blair broke off from his Middle East tour to tell reporters: "I think the tide is turning very firmly for peace and the more people study the agreement, the more they see it is based on sensible principles that offer a genuine peaceful way forward for Northern Ireland.

"It underscores the courage and determination of David Trimble and the leadership of the UUP who have taken risks but they have paid off."

[ image: Gerry Adams congratulated Mr Trimble's victory]
Gerry Adams congratulated Mr Trimble's victory
And there were even words of praise from a more unexpected quarter.

When Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams heard news of the vote, he told delegates at his party's conference in Dublin: "Well done, David." They, in turn, responded with a round of applause.

Long road to peace

Deep divisions still remain in the loyalist community though. Six of the 10 Ulster Unionist MPs are believed to have voted against the motion to accept the deal.

William Ross, MP for Londonderry East, had also tabled an amendment rejecting the peace deal, but it was heavily defeated by 515 votes to 238.

He said that the party was still split down the middle and forecast more trouble for Mr Trimble.

"It is going to be a difficult and confusing situation for the electorate. But I will continue to campaign for a 'no' vote," said Mr Ross.

The Democratic Unionist Party remains fiercely opposed to the peace accord and the Protestant Orange Order has refused to give its backing.

Loyalist Apprentice Boys taking part in a march through London were also unhappy at the UUP's acceptance of the peace deal.

The President of the London branch, James McCulloch, said: "We are part of this union and it is our culture which is at stake. The main concern is that grass root loyalists feel that this deal is a sell-out to the IRA."

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