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Northern Ireland talks to save UK region's Catholic-Protestant government open in Belfast

  • British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, left, welcomes Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan as the media look on, before their political talks at Stormont House, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.  The main political parties and local leaders are meeting Thursday to tackle outstanding issues following the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 which bought peace to the region.  The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland.  (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, left, welcomes Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan as the media look on, before their political talks at Stormont House, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The main political parties and local leaders are meeting Thursday to tackle outstanding issues following the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 which bought peace to the region. The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

  • British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, left, and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan face the media before political talks at Stormont House in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.  The main political parties and local leaders are meeting Thursday to tackle outstanding issues following the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 which bought peace to the region.  The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland.  (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, left, and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan face the media before political talks at Stormont House in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The main political parties and local leaders are meeting Thursday to tackle outstanding issues following the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 which bought peace to the region. The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

  • CORRECTING NAME OF BUILDING AND CLARIFYING SECOND SENTENCE - Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Jennifer McCann walk in front of Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.   The main political parties and local leaders are opening negotiations Thursday, to bolster Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.  The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    CORRECTING NAME OF BUILDING AND CLARIFYING SECOND SENTENCE - Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Jennifer McCann walk in front of Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The main political parties and local leaders are opening negotiations Thursday, to bolster Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government. The British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the political figures to reach an agreement to build an effective government for the people of Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

Negotiations aimed at bolstering Northern Ireland's power-sharing government are beginning in Belfast as the 7-year-old alliance of British Protestants and Irish Catholics faces its toughest political test.

The United Kingdom government is overseeing Thursday's talks at Stormont House involving local leaders, who in the past year have grown increasingly divided over a growing list of issues. The diplomatic push is expected to run twice weekly alongside the continuing operation of Northern Ireland's five-party administration.

At stake is the central achievement of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998: forging a governing coalition of former enemies committed to ending a 45-year conflict that has claimed 3,700 lives.

But many of the conflict points that stir violence remain unresolved, particularly sectarian parades and the display of British and Irish symbols.