Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 19:21 UK

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey stands down in South Belfast

Alex Maskey
Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey is not to stand in South Belfast

Sinn Fein has withdrawn its South Belfast candidate Alex Maskey from the general election.

The party president Gerry Adams announced the move on Tuesday.

However, it is thought unlikely that the SDLP will withdraw its candidate Fearghal McKinney in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Last week, the SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, rejected the offer of a pact from Sinn Fein to cover the two constituencies.

Later on Tuesday, it emerged that the DUP's Jimmy Spratt asked the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists' Paula Bradshaw to stand aside in South Belfast.

It is understood that Mr Spratt offered Ms Bradshaw his assembly seat if she would step aside in the general election.

Responding to the move by Mr Spratt, Ms Bradshaw said it was "not my gift". She said that she was staying in the race in line with the UUP's agreement with the Tories.

Mr Spratt said: "I think it is disgraceful in terms of South Belfast that this deal has not been done, that is what the people want."

Meanwhile, the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell said he was "flattered" by Mr Spratt's offer.

He said that "obviously they are pulling out all the stops, they think I am unstoppable".

Commentating on Sinn Fein's move, Mr McDonnell said that he did not think "it was for my benefit or to help me in anyway".

Earlier on Tuesday speaking about the move concerning Mr Maskey, Mr Adams said: "This is a bold leadership initiative by Sinn Fein. It is about protecting and defending two nationalist seats."

Mr Adams also said that he believed that "this initiative will be widely welcomed by nationalists.

He added: "Although there will be understandable disappointment in South Belfast that they will not have a republican candidate."

The nationalist parties have been clashing over the SDLP's rejection of an electoral pact.

Agreement

Mr Adams criticised Ms Ritchie for not meeting him to discuss the issue.

Sinn Fein's chances of retaining the Fermanagh South Tyrone seat have been hit by the agreement of the DUP and UCU to step aside in favour of a independent candidate.

Sinn Fein would like the SDLP to give them a free run in that constituency.

Meanwhile, Alliance South Belfast candidate Anna Lo has said that the move by Sinn Fein to withdraw their candidate "is despicable tribal politics".

She said that "this development is similar to the sectarian headcount created because the UUP and DUP agreed to have a unionist unity candidate" in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Last week, Mr Maskey criticised what he has described as the "intervention by the Orange Order" in South Belfast.

Loyal orders in the South Belfast constituency had written an open letter to UUP leader Sir Reg Empey.

It called on him to strike a deal with the DUP that would lead to both parties backing a joint unionist candidate.

So far, other candidates who have declared for South Belfast are Adam McGibbon, Green Party.



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