N.Ireland peace architect Trimble dies, 77

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David Trimble, the Northern Irish leader who steered the region's Protestant majority into a historic peace deal with their Catholic rivals that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, has died aged 77.

Trimble, who became Northern Irish first minister in the power-sharing government that emerged from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, was one of the chief architects of the accord that mostly ended three decades of bloodshed in the region.

His family said on Monday that he died peacefully following a short illness.

"Time after time during the negotiations he made the hard choices over the politically expedient ones because he believed future generations deserved to grow up free from violence and hatred," former US president Bill Clinton said in a statement.

Trimble and Irish nationalist John Hume jointly received the Nobel Prize in 1998 for their roles in helping end the violence between Catholic nationalists seeking Irish unity and pro-British Protestants wishing to stay in the United Kingdom that claimed some 3600 lives.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said Trimble's regard in his Nobel speech for the "politicians of the possible" summed up the Northern Irishman's achievements, often in challenging circumstances that culminated in the "crucial and courageous role" he played in the peace negotiations.

"He was a giant of British and international politics," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter, praising his championing of democracy over violence.

A barrister who preferred academia to the courtroom, Trimble's first foray into Northern Irish politics came in 1974 as a hardline politician who helped bring down early attempts at power-sharing in a forerunner agreement to the 1998 accord.

However, he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party in the late 1970s and would eventually drag his party into the talks that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Many Protestants regarded him as a traitor for doing so.

Ex-Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose party acted as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, blamed for half of the conflict's deaths, said Trimble's contribution to almost 25 years of relative peace "cannot be underestimated".

"David faced huge challenges when he led the Ulster Unionist Party in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and persuaded his party to sign on for it. It is to his credit that he supported that agreement. I thank him for that," Trimble's former political foe said in a statement.

Others referenced the political price Trimble and his party paid, as they were surpassed in elections soon after by more hardline unionists. Trimble resigned as UUP leader in 2005 and took up a life peerage in Britain's House of Lords a year later.

He backed Britain's decision to leave the European Union and was a vocal opponent of the post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that have driven a fresh wedge between nationalist and unionist politicians.

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