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UK's Blair says may be mistake to rule out 4th term

Written by: Staff
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Melbourne, Mar 27: British Prime Minister Tony Blair, facing media calls to resign over a 'cash-for-favours' controversy, said today (Mar 27, 2006) it may have been a mistake to rule out a fourth term.

Blair, on a visit to Australia, was asked in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp if his determination not to seek another term was a mistake that left him open to calls for his resignation when rows such as the ''cash-for-favours'' uproar broke.

''I think what happens when you get into your third term and you are coming up to your 10th year is that it really doesn't matter what you say. You are going to get people saying it should be time for a change or 'when are you going?' or 'who's taking over?','' said Blair, who has been in office since 1997.

Blair said his announcement he would not seek another term was ''an unusual thing for me to say, but people kept asking me the question so I decided to answer it. Maybe that was a mistake.'' Asked about the comment later, Blair's official spokesman said: ''Some people may think it was a mistake. He (Blair) doesn't.'' Blair's Labour Party has come under pressure after officials revealed it had received nearly 14 million pounds (24.3 million dollar) of loans from 12 businessmen, some of whom were nominated for seats in Britain's upper parliamentary chamber after lending money.

SLEAZE ALLEGATIONS

Sleaze allegations are damaging to Blair who originally won power promising to be ''whiter than white'' after a string of scandals undermined the previous Conservative government.

Blair, who won a third term last May with a reduced majority, has said he intends to stay for a full term but the loans row has caused renewed speculation over when he could hand over to his expected successor, Finance Minister Gordon Brown.

Blair would not be drawn on how long British troops would remain in Iraq but said Britain might be able to make ''substantial troop reductions'' in the future provided the Iraqi security force capability had been built up and sustained.

''Everyone wants to see the troops come home. The question is when should that happen? My view is that it's important that we are there in support of the Iraqi government for as long as the Iraqi government wants us and needs us to be there,'' Blair said, commenting on Australian opposition calls for the country's troops to be brought back.

The length of the troops' stay was ''determined by making sure that we do the job that we began.'' Blair said he would not meet Terry Hicks, the father of an Australian detainee in Guantanamo Bay, who had asked to see him.

But Blair said he had asked the British High Commissioner (ambassador) to meet Hicks.

His son, David Hicks, won a legal battle last December to be granted British citizenship, because his mother was born in Britain, but the British government appealed.

David Hicks hoped obtaining British citizenship would help secure his release from the US prison camp where he has been held for more than four years.

The United States has released nine British detainees from Guantanamo Bay after requests from Britain, but Australia has supported the U.S. military trials and refused to seek David Hicks' repatriation.

REUTERS

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