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Far-right party wins seats in UK local elections

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) The far-right British National Party (BNP), running on a hardline anti-immigration platform, won 11 seats from the ruling Labour Party in a key east London seat in local elections today.

The BNP targeted working-class areas with voters who are dissatisfied with the main political parties.

Opponents dismissed the party as a neo-fascist minority group peddling racism and preying on voters' prejudices.

But Richard Barnbrook, a winning BNP candidate in the London suburb of Barking and Dagenham, denied being racist and said the party's success at the polls was due to the Labour party's failings on local issues.

''This race concern is nonsense, it doesn't exist,'' Barnbrook told Sky News television. ''It's law and order, education and proper housing.'' Some Barking and Dagenham voters said they had turned to the BNP because mainstream parties had ignored their concerns over issues such as immigration and housing.

The BNP says its policies are not racist but are an attempt to return to ''traditional British values''. Its manifesto pledges to ''stop further attempts to enforce multi-culturalism on an increasingly sceptical and unwilling populace.'' Pensions Minister Margaret Hodge, who represents Barking in parliament, said voters had reacted to rapid changes in the area, once a mainly white Labour stronghold which has become more mixed through immigration.

Statistics showed that ethnic minorities made up 14.8 percent of the suburb's population in 2001, one of the lowest proportions in London but more than double the percentage 10 years earlier.

''We have to challenge the values of the neo-Nazi party -- which is what the BNP is -- and we have to listen very carefully to the concerns that my constituents are expressing,'' Hodge told Sky News.

The BNP is the biggest far-right party in Britain but has no seats in parliament. Britain's first-past-the-post voting system makes it hard for fringe parties to win parliamentary seats.

BNP leader Nick Griffin, faces a re-trial on two race hate charges after an inconclusive trial in northern England in February.

The charges are that he used abusive or offensive words intended or likely to stir up racial hatred during a speech to supporters. He was cleared of two similar charges.

The BNP is fielding 356 candidates for the 4,360 council seats being contested in England.

REUTERS CH ND1000

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