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Saturday, April 25, 1998 Published at 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK

Unionist political leaders urge yes vote
image: [ McMichael: urging those seeking a yes vote to work together ]
McMichael: urging those seeking a yes vote to work together

Leaders of the Loyalist Ulster Democratic Party have gone on the offensive in their campaign for a yes vote in the referendum on the Stormont peace agreement.

At the party's annual conference there were claims Northern Ireland could be plunged into a cycle of violence worse than anything seen before unless the deal was backed.

A battle is looming over the May 22 referendum following the launch of a strong vote no campaign by the Reverend Ian Paisley.

Speaking to the UDP meeting at a hotel in County Down, party leader Gary McMichael admitted the no campaigners had got a strong initial advantage.

He told the conference he was concerned that their claims were not being adequately answered by those who supported the proposals.

Mr McMichael urged those within unionism seeking a yes vote - the Ulster Unionists, the Progressive Unionists and his own party - to work together.

"We must stand together and speak with a common voice," he said.

[ image: UDA and UFF back deal]
UDA and UFF back deal
The UDP leader said the Stormont agreement was "far from perfect" but he added it was a base from which the parties could work towards settlement.

"If we don't take that step then we are never going to move forward," Mr McMichael said.

The senior party negotiator David Adams said loyalists had nothing to fear in the Good Friday agreement, except its rejection.

"A no vote is in effect a vote for no future," Mr Adams said.

He warned that if people rejected the deal, the rest of the world would reject Northern Ireland.

"The people of the world would decide the people here have rejected the opportunity of a settlement - quite simply decided they didn't want peace... that we preferred conflict to reconciliation."

Paramilitary backing

Gary McMichael welcomed the endorsement of the deal by the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Freedom Fighters - for whom his party speaks.

In a joint statement issued on Friday, the UDA and UFF said they had spent two weeks engaged in "detailed analysis" of the deal.

While they felt "uncomfortable" with some elements of the package, they would recommend it to their members.

Thirty years of Republican violence had failed to push the province into a united Ireland, they said, and they urged Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army to back the deal.

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