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Blair Resists Calls to Resign

British Prime Minister Tony Blair resisted a chorus of calls over the weekend to resign before he finishes the historic third term he just won, amid discontent over his leadership from fellow party members.

A number of Labour Party members said they wanted Blair to step down as early as a year from now and make way for his powerful and popular finance minister, Gordon Brown.

"The prime minister is the prime minister, he has made as clear as he could possibly make it that he intends to serve for a full third term," Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said on Sky Television late Saturday.

Blair stirred up rebels within his party by taking Britain to war in Iraq in 2003. The rebels say the chickens are coming home to roost now that voters in Thursday's election have slashed the huge majorities he won in 1997 and 2001.

At the same time the divisions have raised concerns about whether the Labor Party can remain an effective force and prompted comparisons with the bickering that tore Prime Minister John Major's Conservatives apart a decade ago.

A spokesman for the prime minister reminded journalists of Blair's statement last September in which he said that if re-elected he would serve a full third term. "There has been no change," the spokesman said.

The prime minister only committed himself then not to run for a fourth term, which prompted immediate complaints he had made himself a lame-duck leader.

Blair delivered an historic third successive general election victory for the party Thursday, albeit with a much smaller majority over the previous elections amid anger over the way he led the country to war in Iraq.

Labor obtained 356 seats in the 646-seat House of Commons, against 197 for the main opposition Conservatives and 62 for the Liberal Democrats.

The outcome meant Blair's majority had been slashed by more than half to a projected 66 but was still healthy compared with previous governments.

The Observer newspaper reported meanwhile that within Blair's own private circle, the timetable being discussed would involve him triggering a party leadership contest in July 2008 and remaining as prime minister while the succession is resolved, allowing the new leader to take over that autumn.

The Observer quoted an unnamed source within the prime minister's office as saying: "The best thing would be to get in at party conference 2008, that gives you a year to establish yourself but not become over-familiar."

(Shenzhen Daily via agencies May 9, 2005)


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