Hard-liners on both sides of Northern Ireland's sectarian divide beat moderates Friday in provincial elections, official results showed, damaging hopes of saving the power-sharing assembly set up under a 1998 peace deal.
The Democratic Unionist Party of firebrand Protestant the Rev. Ian Paisley emerged as the group with the most seats in the mothballed legislature.
Among Catholic voters, Sinn Fein, political ally of the Irish Republican Army guerrilla group, thrashed the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party, completing a sharp polarization of the political landscape in the British-ruled province.
Britain and Ireland had hoped that a good showing for moderates would aid efforts to restore the assembly, suspended since October 2002 when allegations of IRA spying brought down the fragile coalition.
Instead, the extremes of Protestant unionism, which seeks to preserve Northern Ireland's political union with Britain, and Catholic nationalism, which seeks a united Ireland, appear likely to guarantee continued direct rule from London.