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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Plans N. Ireland Elections

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Britain shut down Northern Ireland's legislature Tuesday and planned a new election to determine the fate of power sharing, the central goal of the peace accord for this British territory.

The closure of the Northern Ireland Assembly -- a 108-member body elected in 2003 but which has failed to form an administration -- will permit Protestant and Catholic parties to campaign for stronger mandates in a March 7 election.

The governments of Britain and Ireland want the next assembly to form a Catholic-Protestant coalition a week later. Britain would hand over control of most Northern Ireland departments March 26 -- a deadline that both governments insist must be met, otherwise the assembly will be closed again the next day.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, were expected to confirm the election timing and other strategy points when they meet Tuesday night at Blair's Downing Street office.

At Stormont, the assembly building in Belfast, party officials were packing up their offices and enjoying a last meal in Stormont's canteen.

"I will definitely miss the food, especially the crispy chicken in batter in a strong chili sauce on Fridays," said Seamus Murphy, a press officer for the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

"It is a sad day for people who aren't running again or, more cruelly, who haven't been selected," Murphy said. "But most of us are eager to get out there with the voters. There's a buzz in the air and an electoral spring in everybody's step."

A report also being published Tuesday documents the deepening commitment to peace of the Irish Republican Army since 2005, when the group disarmed and officially abandoned its decades-old goal of overthrowing Northern Ireland by force.

Two British and Irish government officials said the report by the Independent Monitoring Commission offered an upbeat assessment of the IRA's retreat from violence and criminal rackets. They said the four-man panel had found no evidence the IRA was still smuggling fuel and cigarettes, and attacking criminal rivals.