Blair, Ahern launch Talks to Save N. Ireland Peace Process

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Berti Ahern launched talks with Northern Ireland's main political party leaders on Monday in a last-ditch bid to save its power-sharing government.

The two prime ministers were co-hosting crisis talks at a " secure" conference center in Weston Park, near Birmingham, central England.

The two-hour meeting marked the start of a series of intensive talks aimed at breaking the impasse in the Northern Ireland political process.

The two prime ministers hope two-days of talks will find a way for the power-sharing institutions to function following David Trimble's resignation as the province's first minister on July 1.

Speaking before Monday's round-table talks, Blair and Ahern said they were optimistic about progress being made.

Ahern said he believed that there "could be a successful conclusion." "This is the week where we can try to finish the outstanding issues. Over these next few days, if we work together and everybody puts in the sincere efforts they did three and a half years ago when we negotiated the Agreement, I believe there can be a successful conclusion on it," he said.

Blair said: "We will be conducting intensive negotiations with all the main parties in Northern Ireland to try and ensure that we push the process forward yet again."

The talks are due to last until Tuesday evening. They began with round-table talks before breaking off into a series of bilateral meetings.

As well as disarmament, the other main rows blocking a deal are the scaling down of Britain's military presence and police reforms.

People's Daily Online ---