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Britain's PM Wins Critical Parliament Vote by Narrow Margin

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has narrowly won a vote in parliament that was seen as a key test of his authority. Parliament voted by a five vote margin to advance Mr. Blair's higher education reform bill.

It was the closest Prime Minister Blair has come to defeat in parliament since he led his Labor Party to power in 1997.

After days of intense lobbying by Mr. Blair and his cabinet, a bill to triple university tuition fees was approved for a second reading by just five votes in the 659 seat parliament.

House Speaker Michael Martin announced the results. "Order. The ayes to the right, 316. The no's to the left, 311. They ayes have it," he said.

If Mr. Blair had lost, he would almost certainly have faced a vote of confidence in parliament. But to win by such a slim margin when Labor commands a majority of more than 160 seats could renew questions about Mr. Blair's ability to lead his party, which is still divided over the Iraq war.

More than 70 Labor member of party voted against their leader, and the opposition Conservative Party said Mr. Blair had suffered, in the words of one spokesman, "an utter humiliation."

The vote also came on the eve of the release of a long-awaited report that could shed light on whether Mr. Blair exaggerated Iraq's military threat before the war, a charge the prime minister denies.

The report, compiled by Judge Brian Hutton, examines the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of British government weapons scientist David Kelly.

The British Broadcasting Corporation says Mr. Kelly was the key source for a controversial report that claimed Mr. Blair's government purposely overstated Iraq's threat during the pre-war debate.

Mr. Kelly was found with his wrists slit after government spokesman confirmed his identity to the news media.