The Rev. Ian Paisley, who has wrecked past efforts at compromise in Northern Ireland, launched his campaign Wednesday for Protestant voters to reject a compromise peace accord.
Paisley asserted that the agreement would mean the destruction of Northern Ireland's 77-year-old union with Britain and send the country "on the way to a united Ireland.""This is a struggle for the very life's blood of the union and the future of our province," he declared at the start of his campaign to mobilize Protestant opinion against the May 22 referendum.
The referendum requires a majority "yes" vote from this territory of 1.6 million people - 55 percent of them pro-British Protestants, 40 percent Irish Catholics - for the accord achieved Friday after 22 months of negotiations to take effect.
The British and Irish governments are treating Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, which withdrew from the negotiations last year after the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party gained admission, as a serious threat to make the vote a close call.
Paisley predicted that a majority of Protestants will reject the agreement. He denounced Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, head of Northern Ireland's largest political party, for endorsing the accord.
The agreement would create an elected Northern Ireland Assembly that cooperates formally with the Irish Republic, a link that Paisley vehemently opposes as the first step toward an all-Ireland state.
Paisley asserted that ordinary Protestants felt "outrage and amazement" that Trimble "could set his hand to such a deal which so fundamentally weakens the union and would place this province inexorably on to the road to a united Ireland."
He said Protestants would "not be bullied by a foreign country or the demands of that country to have a say in our decisions."
Paisley challenged British Prime Minister Tony Blair to tell the people of Northern Ireland what he would do if opponents of the accord defeat the referendum.