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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 22:56 GMT
Paisley's party tops NI poll
Ballot box
The election count took two full days
With counting over in Northern Ireland's Assembly election, Ian Paisley's DUP has overtaken the Ulster Unionists as the biggest party.

Sinn Fein has also made election gains over its main nationalist rival, the SDLP.

Despite the strong showing by the anti-Good Friday Agreement DUP, the British and Irish Governments have insisted that the 1998 peace accord is "not open to re-negotiation".

The assembly was suspended more than a year ago and the parties went into the election against the background of a deadlocked political process.

The DUP secured 30 seats, three more than the Ulster Unionists. Sinn Fein took 24 seats, while the SDLP managed 18 and the Alliance gained six assembly places.

The three remaining seats went to a County Tyrone doctor standing on a single issue over hospital services, maverick unionist Robert McCartney and Progressive Unionist David Ervine.

Nigel Dodds of the DUP said his party would be holding talks with the government over the weekend.

"The DUP, in terms of percentage votes and the overall number of votes, now speaks for the unionist community and now speaks for more people in the province than any other party," he said.

FINAL RESULTS
PARTY
+/-
TOT
DUP
10
30
SF
6
24
UUP
-1
27
SDLP
-6
18
AP
0
6
PUP
-1
1
NIWC
-2
0
UKUP
-4
1
UUC
0
0
NIUP
0
0
Others
+1
1
After 108 of 108 seats declared
But Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the Democratic Unionists had "sold the people a false bill of goods".

"They said there was some other agreement out there that they could produce and which wouldn't have any of the awkward bits in it."

He added: "The DUP can't deliver and that will become clear and it will become clear very quickly."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said it had been a good election for his party.

"There is a crisis within unionism that will need some patience for the rest of us to show in the time ahead," he said.

"We will look to Mr Blair and Mr Ahern to reiterate their commitment to fully implementing the agreement."

FIRST PREFERENCE VOTES
DUP: 26%
Sinn Fein: 24%
Ulster Unionists: 23%
SDLP: 17%

Reflecting on his party's results, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said it had to "work with the hand that democracy deals us".

"The fact is that the result we have makes the job of sustaining the Agreement a lot harder," he said.

The British and Irish Governments have said they will be in contact with parties in the next few days.

They said in a joint statement that they would "seek a political way forward and to secure a basis on which the assembly can be restored and a functioning executive quickly established".

The governments said the Good Friday Agreement was "the only viable political framework" in Northern Ireland and its fundamental principles were "not open to re-negotiation".

They added that they respected the mandates received by all sides, adding that "with success comes responsibility".

The White House admitted it had some concerns over the outcome of the election.

However, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said she hoped progress could continue to be made

She said any leadership should "recognise the Good Friday Agreement gives an opportunity for Northern Ireland to continue to develop.

"I do believe that, having tasted peace, the people of Northern Ireland desperately want peace" she added.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The process is dead in the water.
Graham Walker, England

In South Antrim, Alliance Party leader David Ford was elected, winning the sixth seat by 181 votes over Sinn Fein's Martin Meehan.

In South Belfast, the former lord mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey, won a seat where the Women's Coalition leader Monica McWilliams lost her seat.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair in Wales
Mr Ahern and Mr Blair are to contact the parties in the coming days

On Thursday, Northern Ireland's four main party leaders were re-elected after topping the poll in their constituencies.

The turnout for the election was 63.84%, compared to 68.8% in the 1998 assembly election.

A total of 108 seats were contested in the election.

A power-sharing executive will not be re-established at Stormont immediately after the election.

Instead, a review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement and a further round of negotiations is expected to begin.

The last assembly election in 1998 returned 28 Ulster Unionists, 24 SDLP, 20 DUP and 18 Sinn Fein MLAs.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Denis Murray
"An election full of surprises"




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