Pro-British Protestant leaders turned on each other Friday with taunts of "traitor!" in a furious face-to-face debate over whether to accept Northern Ireland's peace deal.
The embattled Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, whose party votes Saturday whether to back or break the historic accord, attacked his hard-line Protestant critics as too stupid or stubborn to read the document that charts a compromise course for Northern Ireland.At a weekly Belfast forum established to promote dialogue among politicians, Trimble weathered a storm of shouts and catcalls from Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and Bob McCartney's United Kingdom Unionists.
In west Belfast Friday night, a man was shot near a taxi station in the first killing since the agreement was reached. However, there was no indication of a motive or who might have done the shooting.
Trimble's party was one of eight that gave conditional approval to the deal last week after 22 months of negotiations. It envisages establishing a new Northern Ireland Assembly where Protestants and Catholics would govern in coalition - and in formal cooperation with the neighboring Irish Republic.
But Paisley and McCartney, whose smaller parties boycotted the talks to protest the participation of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, hope to mobilize enough opposition from the north's majority Protestants to reject the accord in a May 22 referendum.
Trimble argued that the agreement left Northern Ireland's union with Britain more secure and was "a disaster" for supporters of the Irish Republican Army, which has tried since 1970 to abolish the Protestant-majority state.
"Violent republicanism has failed to smash the union. In fact, it has failed in all its stated objectives. Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom has been secured," he argued over cries of "traitor!" and "sellout!" from the Democratic Unionists.
The County Armagh lodge of the Orange Order announced "with regret that we are unable to recommend its acceptance."