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Blair's party 3rd in local vote

By Associated Press
Published June 12, 2004

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair took a beating as his governing Labor Party fell to third place Friday in Britain's local elections, a result he and colleagues blamed on voter anger over the war in Iraq.

With the results from 161 of the 166 local councils declared, Blair's Labor Party had lost 462 seats, while the main opposition Conservative Party had gained 261. Britain's third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, which touted the fact it was the only major party to oppose the war, gained 131 seats.

Labor's big winner on Friday was London Mayor Ken Livingstone, an outspoken critic of the war who has called President Bush "the greatest threat to life on this planet."

Livingstone, elected to a second four-year term, was expelled from the party when he won four years ago as an independent despite Blair's vehement opposition. The popular maverick socialist was readmitted this year after Labor concluded it could not beat him.

Livingstone beat Conservative rival Steve Norris by 161,473 votes, down about 24 percent from his winning margin four years ago.

Voters traditionally register their grievances against the party in power in midterm elections.

Blair appealed to his party not to panic.

"I think it's a question of holding our nerve and seeing it through, and realizing that yes, Iraq has been an immensely difficult decision," he said.

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 23:46:13]

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