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UK's Blair promises to get tough on criminals

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Apr 23 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed today to get tough on criminals and drive them out of the country while attacking liberal critics for being out of touch with public opinion.

In an e-mail exchange with the Observer newspaper published today, Blair said he wanted to ''hassle, harry and hound'' suspected criminals until they gave up or left Britain.

Blair, who has always vowed to be ''tough on crime'', rebutted suggestions his policies were an attack on civil liberties and said new powers were needed.

These ranged from allowing police to seize cash from suspected drug dealers to imposing restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime.

He admitted there were those in his own Labour party as well as many Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who viewed his stance as an attack on personal freedoms.

''I truly believe they are out of touch with their own voters,'' he wrote, saying his critics' stance would lead to a loss of civil liberties for the majority of citizens.

''This is as much an issue of modernity as liberty. We are trying to fight 21st century crime by 19th century means.'' Blair's comments come a week after government minister Margaret Hodge warned that voters were abandoning Labour in her constituency in favour of the right-wing British National Party in the run-up to the local elections on May four.

Hodge cited crime and local disorder along with immigration as being key factors for the switch.

The Conservative party accused Blair of raising the issue as a gimmick to win votes.

''The Prime Minister, yet again, is putting out a whole series of headline-grabbing initiatives, one or two of which may be sensible,'' David Davies, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, told the ITV Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

''But the raw truth is the public will say who is responsible, who's been in charge, whose watch is it in which hard drug-taking has now crossed a million, in which violent crime appears to be out of control.'' REUTERS SRS BST1820

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