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British Parliament Rejects Blair's Anti-Terror Legislation

Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered his first defeat in parliament Wednesday when members from all parties, including his own, rejected his legislative plan that would have allowed the police to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

The defeat represents a major blow to Tony Blair. His call to extend the period of time suspects can be held without being charged from the current 14 days to 90 days was soundly rejected in the House of Commons.

Mr. Blair's parliamentary majority evaporated as members of his own party joined with the opposition in defeating the bill.

Fellow Labor party politician Paul Flynn says Mr. Blair now knows that from this day forward, he cannot expect to always get his own way.

"I believe that the prime minister made a fatal error by going ahead with this. And I believe now that they will perhaps realize what the truth is in the new parliamentary arithmetic," he said.

The prime minister, interviewed on British television after the vote, rejected the notion that he had made an error of judgment in pushing for such a lengthy detention period.

"I think people in the country will find it very odd, very odd, that MP [members of parliament] given such a compelling and strong case by the police decided to ignore their recommendation and instead go for a period that frankly they thought of themselves but without any particular justification for it," he said.

For former cabinet member Claire Short, Mr. Blair's defeat represents a turning point with his power now beginning to ebb away. "I think as the dust settles and people listen to the arguments, he is going to be damaged by it," he said.

For civil rights campaigners like Shami Cahkrabarti, the director of the London-based group Liberty, the rejection of the 90-day motion was highly significant.

The parliament adopted Labor members' proposal to extend the current maximum detention period from 14 to 28 days. Ms. Cahkrabarti accepts that with reservations.

"I want to say that 28 days is still a long time. There is a danger of being too euphoric about 28 days because 90 days was so unimaginable. It is still a doubling of the current pre-charge detention period and still a long time not to know the charge against you," he said.

The political fallout from Mr. Blair's defeat will be analyzed for weeks to come. Already, some in his own party Labor party are regarding him as an electoral liability.