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Irish Protestant leader Ian Paisley hospitalized

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) – The Rev. Ian Paisley, once the loud voice of Protestant opposition to compromise with Catholics in Northern Ireland, has been taken to a hospital, his wife said.

Eileen Paisley confirmed through the Democratic Unionist Party that her 85-year-old husband is being treated in the Ulster Hospital near Belfast. She asked for privacy at a difficult time for the family.

Ulster Television reported that Paisley was being treated in the intensive care unit. It was not immediately certain what he was being treated for Monday, but Paisley has had a history of heart trouble. He had a pacemaker fitted a year ago after falling ill in the House of Lords in London.

Paisley, a minister in the Free Presbyterian denomination he founded, was a prominent figure in Northern Ireland’s violent struggles since 1970 when the Irish Republican Army launched a campaign of violence.

Paisley came to prominence preaching a “no surrender” brand of politics, failed to block the 1998 peace accord and later led his Democratic Unionist Party to head a regional government in partnership with Sinn Fein, the party of IRA supporters.

Paisley got along so well with his deputy, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, that the pair were nicknamed “the chuckle brothers.”

The Protestant leader had recently cut back on his activities, retiring from politics and the pulpit. Friends and foes have called him “the big man” in tribute to his bulky 6-foot-3 (190 centimeters), his large-featured face and his bellowing voice.

Paisley stepped down as leader of Northern Ireland’s regional government and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in 2008; he did not seek re-election in 2010 to the House of Commons, where he had first been elected in 1970.

He had retired in 2004 from the European Parliament, which he used as a venue in 1988 to loudly denounce Pope John Paul II as the Antichrist.

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