British Prime Minister Tony Blair's silence over the manner of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's execution until he faces questions in parliament tomorrow was developing into a test of his personal authority on Sunday night.
The prime minister's office was bounced into issuing a statement yesterday criticizing the execution as "wrong and unacceptable" to defend the prime minister's decision not to comment. The trigger came after Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown used an interview on the British Broadcasting Corp's Sunday AM program to join a chorus of ministers in describing the events surrounding the execution as "deplorable."
Asked about the execution, Brown told the interviewer: "Now that we know the full picture of what happened, we can sum this up as a deplorable set of events. It is something, of course, which the Iraqi government has now expressed its anxiety and shame at. It has done nothing to lessen tensions between the Shiite and Sunni communities."
"Even those people, unlike me, who are in favor of capital punishment found this completely unacceptable and I am pleased that there is now an inquiry into this and I hope lessons in this area will be learnt, as we learn other lessons about what has happened in Iraq," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Brown set out his vision for the country, which included giving much greater power to parliament -- such as having the right to vote on going to war -- and encouraging people to become active in local politics.
The interview, which would normally be expected to be given by Blair as a curtain raiser to a new session of parliament, focused on how the chancellor wanted the country to develop, including a warning to US President George W. Bush that he would be "frank" in defending Britain's interests.
Brown's condemnation of Hussein's treatment echoed the comments of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who last week described the filming of Hussein's last moments as "deplorable."
Yesterday he was joined by Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary and Margaret Hodge, the industry minister.
Downing Street declined to confirm precisely when Blair would make his comments on Hussein's hanging.
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