Europe

Irish nationalists seek boost in Northern Ireland election

  • A woman walks her dog past a Republican mural in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    A woman walks her dog past a Republican mural in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

  • People arrive to vote at a polling station in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    People arrive to vote at a polling station in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

  • Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster arrives to cast her vote at a polling station in Brookeborough, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster arrives to cast her vote at a polling station in Brookeborough, Northern Ireland, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Voting has begun Thursday in the British province of Northern Ireland to elect a new Stormont Assembly after the power-sharing government collapsed in January. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)  (The Associated Press)

The Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party is seeking gains in an early election that could shape the fate of Catholic-Protestant cooperation in Northern Ireland.

An expected two-day count of ballots to fill the Northern Ireland Assembly began Friday.

Forecasters project gains for Sinn Fein. The Irish Catholic-backed party triggered Thursday's election by withdrawing from Northern Ireland's nearly decade-old unity government in a showdown with the British Protestants of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The key symbolic issue is whether Sinn Fein can overtake the Democratic Unionists and become the top party in Northern Ireland, a long-disputed corner of the United Kingdom, for the first time.

Power-sharing rules require both sides to overcome their enmity and resume cooperation atop a shared government. Failure would require the British government to resume direct control.