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British Leader Promises to Steer Country Through Tough Economic Times


In a wide-ranging news conference, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown fielded a number of tough questions Thursday regarding his ability to guide the country through tough economic times he admits are not over. He also touched on the differing aid approaches to Burma and China. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown got the message loud and clear from the country earlier this month when his ruling Labor Party received a battering in local elections held in England and Wales.

In his first major news conference since those stinging defeats and amid calls in some newspapers here that openly question his ability to lead, Mr. Brown acknowledges that managing the British economy through what he calls the "hard times ahead" will be the true test of his leadership and it is a task he says he is up to.

"As we deal with the difficult world situation, I think that what I can do and how I can work with other countries to deal with oil price rises and other issues therefore I feel that I am in the right position to be able to sort out the problems that we have now," he said.

"And these are problems that are generated by the credit crunch coming out of America and inflationary pressures coming out of the rest of the world. Now these are issues that all countries will have to deal with. I think that because of my experience, I am in a good position to deal with these issues," he added.

Specifically on the issue of the current high price of oil, the British leader says he would like to see OPEC boost production.

"I believe there is capacity to do so," said Brown. "I believe there are many oil producers around the world who could look what they can do. But of course we have also got to have a forward-looking plan because the oil price now is being affected by what people see as the likely outcomes a few years ahead and if supply is going to be lower than demand for future years, then we need to act now to convince people that more oil can be made available."

"So, that is what the discussions between consumers and producers in oil has got to be about. There is a meeting of the International Energy Foundation to look at that. I will be talking to my other colleagues in the G8 as I have done with some of them about what we can do about this and of course this is difficult," he continued.

The issue of relief efforts also came up in the monthly news conference. Mr. Brown was asked about the difficulty of getting aid into cyclone-stricken Burma. He said even at this stage in the unfolding crisis, it is imperative to keep the pressure on the Burmese regime to let in more aid and to allow in more aid workers.

"I think two things have happened in the last few hours," said the British prime minister. "First of all, I understand that this emergency summit will be conveyed by the UN Secretary-General with the Asian group of countries in the region and I think that is great progress and I hope that it yields the results that I want to see and secondly, that the Asian countries are being invited by the Burmese government provide aid and aid workers through these countries into Burma."

"Now. We will not stop from doing what we also want to do and that is to get our supplies of aid into the country. We have four flights from Britain. I believe there was about 30 flights or so went into Rangoon yesterday. We need about 20 flights a day if we are going to be able to continue to get the aid into the country that is necessary as a minimum and I hope that these flights can happen," he added.

Compared to the Burmese situation, Prime Minister Brown praised the Chinese authorities for their swift, flexible and open approach in dealing with its devastating earthquake in Sichuan province.

"I think the rescue work has been speedy and where live scan be saved, they have been saved," he said. "And I know there have been an enormous number of casualties and I want to send my condolences both to the government of China and to the Chinese people."

Already, Britain has announced a $2 million aid donation to China and a number of British search teams are flying to China to help the locals in their rescue efforts.

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