Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Tony Blair says he'll seek re-election for third term

AFP , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a Sunday newspaper interview, said that despite the "lumps" of his job, he fully intends to seek re-election for a third term in Downing Street.

Speaking with the News of the World newspaper, Blair said he wants to stay in power despite experiencing one of his worst months in office since he first led his Labour party to victory in May 1997.

"You have people kicking lumps out of you, but you can live with it, and I do," he told the mass circulation Sunday newspaper.

"Whatever the problems and pressures this is an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling job and I intend to carry on doing it. I will be putting myself forward."

Political analysts expect Blair -- who won re-election in 2001 -- to call an election in the first half of 2005, though Labour's current five-year term doesn't expire until 2006.

Blair's popularity in the opinion polls has slipped since the Iraq war, and last month his government escaped serious criticism from a judicial inquiry into the suicide of Iraq weapons expert David Kelly.

Kelly, who killed himself in July last year, was the source of a BBC news report two months earlier which alleged that Blair's inner circle embellished intelligence in the run-up to the March 2002 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Blair also narrowly survived a parliamentary vote last month on plans to increase university tuition fees, an idea opposed by many members of parliament within his own Labour party.

In an opinion poll for The Independent newspaper, published Feb. 6, 51 percent of respondents agreed when asked if the time had come for Blair to resign and hand over the reins of power to someone else.

Despite his slump in popularity, Blair's Labour government continues to enjoy a lead in the polls over the main opposition Conservatives.

Blair's interview with the News of the World was his first since Lord Brian Hutton's findings into the Kelly affair, released on Jan. 28, in which the judge concentrated his criticism on the BBC.

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