The US president, George W Bush, has telephoned the DUP leader, Ian Paisley, urging him to continue his efforts to break the political deadlock in the North's peace process.

It is also expected that Mr Bush will contact the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, to tell him that the US fully supports efforts to resolve the impasse.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are considering the Irish and British governments' response to issues raised by them about a proposed deal.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said this weekend will be a very crucial one for the North's peace process.

He and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, last night finalised their reply to the issues raised by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Mr Ahern added that the governments would be in touch with the parties over the weekend or on Monday.

Daphne Trimble misses out on UUP selection

In a separate development, Daphne Trimble, the wife of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, failed to win selection as the party's candidate in the Lagan Valley constituency at a selection meeting last night. 

She was defeated by businessman Basil McCrea who will stand for the party in the next UK general election, which is expected next year.

Mr McCrea will now be the party's candidate to challenge the sitting DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, who defected from the Ulster Unionists earlier this year after years of feuding with Mr Trimble over party policy.