A group which has the support of three loyalist paramilitary organisations has urged unionists not to vote for Alliance candidates in Thursday's Westminster election in Northern Ireland.
The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) has called on unionists to support named DUP and Ulster Unionist Party candidates in four marginal seats while warning that a vote for Alliance is "driving a nail into the coffin of the union".
The LCC, which has the support of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando and the Ulster Defence Association, said unionists and loyalists should not support Alliance.
“No party does more to undermine the Britishness of Northern Ireland and foment community mistrust and division than the Alliance party,” it said.
The LCC urged unionists to support outgoing UUP MP Tom Elliott against Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh South Tyrone; the outgoing DUP Nigel Dodds against Sinn Fein's John Finucane in North Belfast; the outgoing DUP MP Gavin Robinson against Alliance leader Naomi Long in East Belfast; and the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly who is seeking to unseat the SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast.
“If there is a maximum turnout of the unionist electorate not only will three unionist seats be protected but a fourth, South Belfast, will be won back for unionism,” it said.
Alliance East Antrim Westminster candidate Stewart Dickson said parties should make clear their opposition to the LCC statement. "When you have active paramilitaries warning against voting for any particular party, it clearly has sinister undertones," he said.
The LCC statement prompted Sinn Fein's John Finucane in North Belfast to demand that DUP leader Arlene Foster "immediately reject the support of these organisations and make it clear they have no place in our society and should disband immediately".
On Monday the DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party had always opposed paramilitarism while DUP Lagan Valley candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC, "I do not seek, nor does the DUP seek the support or endorsement of any paramilitary organisation, and we reject any such endorsement."
The UUP leader Robin Swann said his was a law and order party while adding, "We have not asked for the support of paramilitary organisations nor do we want the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity."
The LCC said it “will be continuing its efforts after the general election to encourage greater cooperation amongst unionists to ensure that unionist representation in councils and in any future Assembly is maximised”.