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N. Ireland government leader Peter Robinson hospitalized

First Minister Peter Robinson, the Protestant head of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, is in hospital after a suspected heart attack, his party has announced.

The 66-year-old leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was transferred to the cardiac specialist unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in the predominantly Catholic west of Belfast, after being taken by ambulance to the Ulster Hospital near his home early on Monday.

The Royal Victoria Hospital said in a statement that Robinson "underwent a procedure this morning and is currently recovering," declining to issue details of his condition.

The DUP represents the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. Robinson has led the country's five-party government for the past seven years. Known before becoming first minister as a stern critic of the outlawed Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Sinn Fein party, Robinson has worked together with his Irish Catholic colleagues - particularly former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein official who is co-leader of the power-sharing government.

Deputy First Minister McGuinness said in a tweet he was concerned about Robinson's hospitalization.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron also tweeted that he hopes Robinson "has a speedy recovery."

Disputes ongoing

Robinson succeeded Ian Paisley as leader of the Unionists and of Northern Ireland's government in 2008. The coalition was forged a year earlier under terms of the Good Friday peace deal of 1998, which sought to end three decades of conflict known as "The Troubles" over Northern Ireland that had claimed close to 4,000 lives.

The coalition is at risk of collapse because of a drawn-out dispute between the DUP and Sinn Fein over London-ordered welfare cuts. Robinson supports the austerity measures while Sinn Fein is blocking them.

Sinn Fein backed out of a compromise pact late last year designed to break the deadlock. The impasse is costing Northern Ireland tens of millions of pounds in financial penalties imposed by the British Treasury, which subsidizes government operations in Northern Ireland.

glb/msh (AFP, Reuters)