Paisley to step down as Northern Ireland First Minister
( dpa ) - Ian Paisley announced late Tuesday he is to step down as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly in May, the BBC reported.
The Protestant firebrand, who turns 82 next month, said he was also relinquishing his role as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party which he has led for nearly four decades.
Paisley, First Minister since last May after five years of direct rule from London ended for Northern Ireland, said he would continue to serve as an MP.
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson was expected to succeed him as party leader, observers said.
In Initial reaction, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness - a long-time fierce opponent whose Sinn Fein party is close to the Irish Republican Army - praised Paisley.
He had played a decisive role, McGuinness said, in bringing about power-sharing between the two main parties in Northern Ireland.
"This historic decision he took to go into government with Sinn Fein has changed the course of Irish history for ever," the BBC quoted McGuinness as saying.