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N. Ireland leader hospitalized over suspected heart attack

FILE- In this file photo dated Thursday, May 7, 2015, Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Peter Robinson gives the thumbs up to waiting media after casting his vote in the General Election in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. According to his political party, 66-year old Peter Robinson, has been hospitalized in northern Ireland after a suspected heart attack, and will remain in hospital for further tests. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, FILE)

DUBLIN (AP) — First Minister Peter Robinson, the Protestant leader of Northern Ireland’s unity government, has been hospitalized after a suspected heart attack, his party said Monday.

The 66-year-old leader of the Democratic Unionist Party was taken by ambulance to the Ulster Hospital east of Belfast near his home, then transferred to the cardiac specialist unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Catholic west Belfast.

The Royal Victoria Hospital said in a statement that Robinson “underwent a procedure this morning and is currently recovering.” It declined to elaborate.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which represents the British territory’s Protestant majority, asked media not to contact Robinson’s family.

Robinson has led Northern Ireland’s five-party government since 2008. Long a fierce critic of the outlawed Irish Republican Army and its allied Sinn Fein party, Robinson has defied expectations and worked with Irish Catholic colleagues — particularly former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein official who is co-leader of the government.

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

“My thoughts and prayers are with him, (wife) Iris and family,” he wrote.

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

Robinson in 2008 succeeded Ian Paisley both as leader of the Democratic Unionists and of Northern Ireland’s government. The cross-community coalition was forged in 2007 under terms of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998, which sought to end decades of paramilitary-driven conflict over Northern Ireland that claimed 3,700 lives.

The coalition is at risk of collapse because of a bitter yearlong dispute between Robinson’s Democratic Unionists and McGuinness’ Sinn Fein over British government-ordered welfare cuts. Robinson supports the austerity measures while Sinn Fein is blocking them.

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

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