Hard-liners raced ahead Thursday in an election to decide who will control the Northern Ireland Assembly and hold the key to revived power-sharing in this British territory.
The Protestants of the Democratic Unionists and the Catholics of Sinn Fein appeared on course to strengthen their hold over each side of the assembly. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley and his deputy, Peter Robinson, were among the first to win easy re-election.
All winners of the 108-member assembly were expected to be confirmed today. Northern Ireland's complex system of proportional representation allowed voters to pick candidates in order of preference, requiring ballots to be counted several times.
At stake is achieving the central aim of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998: an administration drawn equally from the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority that can govern Northern Ireland in stability and a spirit of compromise.