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British deputy PM Prescott admits affair

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 26 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Tony Blair, mired in a sleaze row over his Labour Party's conduct, suffered a new blow today when his deputy admitted an affair with a secretary.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he regretted the relationship, which ended some time ago. His admission is an embarrassment for Blair ahead of local elections on May 4.

''I have discussed this fully with my wife Pauline who is devastated by the news,'' Prescott said in a statement. ''I would be grateful if Pauline and I can now get on with our lives together.'' Blair swept to power in 1997 promising to be ''whiter than white'' after a string of sleaze allegations damaged the previous Conservative government.

But his ruling Labour Party has been dogged by negative headlines in recent weeks and one newspaper poll put its support at a 19-year low this week.

Blair has been under pressure since last month when Labour said it had received nearly 25.06 million dollar in loans from 12 businessmen, some of whom were later nominated for seats in the unelected upper house of parliament.

The row over the loans -- which helped bankroll Blair's third straight election victory in 2005 -- comes as the prime minister faces questions about when he will step down, after he declared he would not seek a fourth term.

Prescott is one of the most colourful figures in Blair's cabinet.

A former cruise ship steward, he is known for his blunt language and no-nonsense approach to politics.

He made headlines during Britain's 2001 election campaign when he punched an egg-throwing protester.

REUTERS KD KN1032

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