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Blair Vows to Resign Within One Year
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed Thursday to resign within a year, in a drastic bid to calm a crisis threatening his government, although it was unclear if his words could quell the protests.

But the embattled leader, who has repeatedly refused to discuss his exit plans, refused to name a specific departure date, which is being demanded by his party to restore authority to its leadership.

Blair, who will mark 10 years in power next May, was forced to break his silence after two days of high political drama which saw eight junior government members quit.

"The next party conference in a couple of weeks will be my last as party leader," he said, implicitly confirming reports that he will stand down before September 2007, when next year's Labor Party conference will be held.

"I'm not going to set a precise date now, I don't think that's right. I will do that at a future date and I'll do it in the interests of the country and depending on the circumstances of the time."

In an apparent joint attempt to ease tensions, finance minister Gordon Brown widely tipped as Blair's successor and alleged by some to have orchestrated a "coup" against him said he would stand by whatever decision Blair took.

"I will support him in the decision he makes," the chancellor of the exchequer said.

"This cannot and should not be about private arrangements, but what is in the best interests of our party and most of all the best interests of our country," he said, in apparent reference to a reported deal with Blair.

The issue of when Blair will go has dogged his leadership for nearly two years. In 2004 he said he would not stand for a fourth consecutive term of office but did not say when he would hand over power.

The next general election is due in May 2010 at the latest.

Speculation over dates has been rife for days. Thursday, Sky News television said that Blair would stand down as party leader on May 4 immediately after nationwide local elections and then as prime minister on June 15.

But a Downing Street spokesman poured cold water on such suggestions. "Some of the speculation I have seen in the last few hours is just plain wrong," he said.

Brown's supporters are believed to fiercely oppose a transfer of power anytime from May onwards in particular saying that taking office in June or July would mean their crucial first 100 days would end right in the middle of the summer break.

Thursday's interventions by Blair and Brown followed a day of turmoil in Labor's ranks dubbed Blair's "Black Wednesday" by some in which a junior minister and seven official aides quit, demanding Blair's urgent resignation.

The fast-moving developments for some recalling the way prime minister Margaret Thatcher was brought down by her Conservative Party in 1990 came after The Sun newspaper reported that Blair planned to quit the premiership in July.

On Wednesday, Brown and Blair reportedly clashed head-on, the chancellor demanding that Blair resign quickly enough for his successor to be in place by May, which the prime minister dismissed as "totally unreasonable."

The Sun said Brown also demanded that Blair publicly endorse Brown's leadership bid, and instigate a system of "co-decision" under which the chancellor would be able to veto key policy decisions until Blair's successor was in place.

The two apparently engaged in a shouting match, and The Guardian newspaper reported that Blair authorized the use of the word "blackmail" by his staff to describe Brown's actions.

Blair admitted Thursday that his hand had been forced.

"As for my timing and date of departure, I would have preferred to do this in my own way," he said.

The recent crisis "has not been our finest hour, to be frank," he said. "I think what is important now is that we understand that it's the interests of the country that come first and we move on."

(China Daily September 8, 2006)


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