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Ian Paisley to quit as leader of Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist Party
Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, leaves the Northern Ireland Electoral office, Belfast, Northern Ireland, in this Feb. 12, 2007 file photo. Paisley, 81, the Protestant evangelist who leads Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration, said Tuesday, March 4, 2008, he is quitting as the leader of his Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley will step down in May as Northern Ireland's first minister, but will remain a member of British Parliament and a Northern Ireland Assembly member. - photo by Associated Press
    DUBLIN, Ireland — Ian Paisley, the Protestant evangelist who leads Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration, said Tuesday he is quitting as the leader of his Democratic Unionist Party.
    Paisley said he made the decision to leave in May after mounting pressure from within his party in recent weeks to step aside.
    Paisley, 81, has dominated Northern Ireland political life for four turbulent decades, and his departure from the political front line marks the end of an era.
    He said he will step down after an investment conference in Belfast organized by the power-sharing executive.
    ‘‘I came to this decision a few weeks ago when I was thinking very much about the conference and what was going to come after the conference,’’ Paisley said. ‘‘I thought that it is a marker, a very big marker, and it would be a very appropriate time for me to bow out.’’
    Although he will resign as Northern Ireland’s first minister, he said he plans to remain a member of British Parliament and a Northern Ireland Assembly member.
    His leadership was widely seen as having been undermined when his son, Ian Paisley Jr., was forced to resign last month from the coalition amid allegations of ethical failures.
    His son was the first minister to quit Northern Ireland’s nine-month-old administration, which brings together leaders of the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority.
    Paisley previously had insisted he would serve his full term as power-sharing leader through 2011, but he is facing growing disquiet from hard-liners over his stunning decision last year to share power with Catholics.
    In January, Paisley was forced to resign as leader of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the anti-Catholic denomination he founded in 1951, amid grass roots disillusionment with his political U-turn.
    Paisley founded the Democratic Unionists party in 1971 to oppose compromise with Catholics. But his hold over the party was shaken in January when the Democratic Unionists lost an election for a vacant Northern Ireland Assembly seat — in part because some Protestant voters turned to a fringe party opposed to power-sharing.

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