Irish Prime Minister Sets Election for March 11

DUBLIN -- Prime Minister Brian Cowen has announced that Ireland will elect a new parliament March 11 in a long-awaited test for his deeply unpopular government.

Cowen set the date Thursday after suffering a humiliating climbdown in his plans to replace five Cabinet ministers with new lawmakers from his Fianna Fail party.

Cowen did accept the resignations of his ministers overseeing justice, health, trade and enterprise, defense and transport. But he was forced to transfer responsibility to other existing members of his Cabinet rather than to newly promoted lawmakers.

Lawmakers who normally support his government refused to back the reshuffle, putting his government on the brink of collapse. Appointment of newly promoted ministers requires majority approval in parliament.