Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blair Does Some Splainin

BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Tony Blair offered his Labour party on Tuesday a partial apology for waging war in Iraq, striving to pull angry supporters behind him ahead of an election next year.

But as two more British soldiers died in Iraq and a hostage remained under threat of death, the prime minister's hopes of drawing a line under two years that have wrecked his public trust ratings are far from secure.

"The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons ... has turned out to be wrong," Blair told Labour's annual conference, his nearest yet to a "mea culpa."

"The problem is I can apologize for the information that turned out to be wrong but I can't, sincerely at least, apologize for removing Saddam," he said. "The world is a better place with Saddam in prison not in power."

Blair's speech was interrupted twice by protesters, one yelling that the prime minister "had blood on his hands," others opposing a planned ban on fox-hunting. They were bundled out of the hall.


"I don't think this speech changed anything on Iraq," former minister Clare Short, who resigned over the war, told Reuters. "Iraq will go on being a mess but the party wants to win the election and will pull together for that."

Blair acknowledged terrorism would never be defeated unless Israelis and Palestinians were reconciled -- expressing frustration at a lack of progress ahead of U.S. elections.

"After November, I will make its revival a personal priority. Two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in an enduring peace would do more to defeat this terrorism than bullets alone can ever do," he said.

... but Jolly Old England may never be the same with all those foxes overrunning the heath.

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