UK government says it will extend N.Ireland talks' deadline to June 29


UPDATE 1-UK government says it will extend N.Ireland talks' deadline to June 29

(Adds background)
    LONDON, April 21 (Reuters) - The British government on
Friday said it was willing to extend the deadline on talks to
form a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland between Irish
nationalists and pro-British unionists to late June in light of
a snap UK-wide election.
    The semi-autonomous Belfast government collapsed in January
and despite fresh regional elections in March, no replacement
executive has been agreed. That has left Northern Ireland
without political leadership as Britain begins negotiating its
exit from the European Union.
    The British government's Northern Ireland minister James
Brokenshire said new legislation would give political parties
until June 29 to reach a deal.
    "If an agreement is not possible before the general
election, it is right that we provide flexibility for an
incoming government to act in the best interests of Northern
Ireland and the space for the parties to conclude a deal,"
Brokenshire said in a statement.
    Several parties said the talks had been rendered
unsustainable by Prime Minister Theresa May's decision on
Tuesday to call a general election for June 8, which pits the
parties involved in the talks against each other.
    The extension allows the British government to avoid
deciding whether to call a fresh election in Northern Ireland -
the third in a year - or to revert to direct rule from London
for the first time in a decade.
    The 1998 peace agreement which ended decades of sectarian
violence between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists,
requires a power-sharing arrangement between the two sides.
    While no one is forecasting a return to the bloodshed that
killed 3,600 people over three decades, the political impasse
could increase sectarian tensions and freeze decision-making as
Britain prepares to exit the European Union.
    As the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border
with the EU, Northern Ireland potentially faces severe
disruption to its economy as a result of Brexit.

 (Reporting by William James and Conor Humphries; editing by
Michael Holden)
 ((; +44 207 542 3374; Reuters


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