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Polls close in Northern Ireland Assembly election

The polls have closed in Northern Ireland's snap Assembly election.

The 228 candidates vying for the 90 seats in Stormont's slimmed-down devolved legislature now face a nervous night before counting begins on Friday morning.

The Assembly poll was the second in 10 months.

The last powersharing coalition executive led by the two largest parties at Stormont - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein - collapsed in January, only eight months after last May's election.

If the former partners in government are again returned as the main players, they will have three weeks to resolve their multiple differences and form a new administration.

The re-imposition of direct rule from London is on the cards if the post-election talks fail.

The first seats are due to be declared on Friday afternoon, with some counts expected to extend into Saturday.

While the official turnout will not be known until the counting process gets under way, there were anecdotal reports that many polling stations were busier than last year.

The region's political leaders cast their ballots through Thursday morning.

DUP leader Arlene Foster voted in Brookeborough in the heart of her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

Forty miles away, Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill filled out her ballot paper in her home village of Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

The Ulster Unionists and nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which have presented themselves as an alternative cross-community partnership, are bidding to wrest control away from the fractious former allies.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt voted in east Belfast and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood cast his ballot in Londonderry.

Leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, Naomi Long, also voted in east Belfast.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have fallen out over the unionist party's handling of a botched green energy scheme and a host of other issues.

Former DUP first minister Peter Robinson has warned politicians to step back and avert a headlong rush towards the destruction of devolved government.

If the three-week post-election deadline passes, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is legally obliged to call yet another election.

But, in those circumstances, the Government may well move to pass emergency legislation to suspend devolution for the first time in 10 years.

While the Assembly election will not change how Theresa May's Government treats talks to leave the European Union, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a key Brexit issue.

Five Assembly seats are up for grabs in 18 constituencies, with the overall number returned falling from 108 to 90 as a consequence of the implementation of previously agreed reform measures.

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