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Britain's Blair Pledges to Step Down Within One Year


British Prime Minister Tony Blair, under political pressure from within his own party, has promised to step down within one year. The British leader made the announcement in London Thursday in a bid to dampen dissatisfaction within his Labor Party.

Faced with a brewing mutiny from some Labor Party members, Prime Minister Blair said this month's annual party conference will be his last, meaning he will leave office sometime within the next year. But he refused to be pinned down to a specific date, as some party politicians demanded.

"I'm not going to say it, a precise date, now," he said. "I don't think that's right. I will do that at a future date, and I'll do it in the interests of the country, and depending on the circumstances of the time."

The announcement came after a tumultuous 24 hours in British politics that saw the resignations of a junior minister and seven senior aides, and a reportedly tense meeting between Blair and his expected successor, Gordon Brown.

Blair has been in office since 1997. Calls have been growing within the party for him to step down to reinvigorate the Labor Party's political fortunes, as recent polls have shown a sharp decline in support. Last week, 17 Labor Party parliamentarians signed a letter calling for a change in leadership.

Blair previously said only that he would not run in the next parliamentary elections, which must be held some time before June 2010.

Blair loyalists accused Brown supporters of mounting what some of them labeled a coup, to force Blair to step aside to make way for Brown to become party leader, and thus prime minister.

Speaking in Scotland Thursday, Brown said the decision on when to leave is Blair's alone, and he will support whatever the prime minister decides.

"But I want to make it absolutely clear today that, when I met the prime minister yesterday, I said to him, as I have said on many occasions to him and repeat today, that it is for him to make the decision," he said. "I said also to him, and I make clear again today, that I will support him in the decisions he makes, that this cannot, and should not, be about private arrangements, but what is in the best interest of our party, and, most of all, in the best interests of our country. And, I will support him in doing exactly that."

But it is still not clear if Blair's statement will satisfy the dissidents who want the prime minister to leave sooner. Some Labor Party politicians have voiced concern that the dissent is tearing the party apart, and only works in favor of the opposition Conservative Party.

Blair apologized for the public party squabbles, saying that "this has not been the Labor Party's finest hour."

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