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Sinn Fein on course to be largest party in Northern Ireland local elections

LONDON (AP) — Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein is set to take the most seats in Northern Ireland's local elections and repeat its success from last year's assembly elections, when it became the region's largest party for the first time.

With about 400 of 462 local government seats counted Saturday, Sinn Fein, which seeks unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, took 128 seats and made breakthroughs in some areas. It was ahead of its main rival, the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, which secured 111 seats so far.

“We are now on course to have a very momentous election result,” said Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's vice president.

The party said its success was a message from voters that Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, which has been paralyzed for over a year, must get back to business.

“We need to double down in terms of getting an executive restored and getting our councils up and running again,” O'Neill told the BBC.

The semi-autonomous Belfast government has been suspended since the DUP, which wants to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom, walked out more than a year ago to protest a post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Under power-sharing rules established by the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, the main British unionist and Irish nationalist parties must govern together.

Sinn Fein captured the largest number of seats in Northern Ireland's assembly in May 2022 in a historic victory. It was the first time they beat the DUP, which had dominated the legislature for two decades.