Rocky Start for Northern Ireland Peace Talks

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland: Extremist Protestants stormed out of peace negotiations just as they began Wednesday, claiming that the chief negotiator, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, will be biased against them because he is a Catholic. The dissenting Protestants say they are also concerned because Mitchell represents President Clinton, who gave a visa to Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Fein party allied with the Irish Republican Army, and hosted him at the White House earlier this year. Sinn Fein has been barred from the talks because of its refusal to reinstate a cease-fire. "They aren't gone forever," says TIME's Edward Barnes of the Protestant delegates who walked out. "Part of this is showmanship. They're trying to consolidate their position as extremists who aren't going to go along with everything." Even if the delegates do return, negotiators have a long way to go to find any common ground. "They will be locked in their battle over every point," says Barnes. British Prime Minister John Major, Irish Prime Minister John Bruton and delegates from seven parties remain at the talks. While the majority Protestants prefer strong ties with Britain, the Catholics seek the independence the rest of Ireland secured in 1921. Chris McKenna