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.