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Britain Defends Deportations of Zimbabweans


British Prime Minister Tony Blair
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his country's deportation of Zimbabweans, whose applications for asylum are rejected. He spoke on the issue at a wide-ranging news conference Monday.

Mr. Blair says political conditions in Zimbabwe are deplorable under President Robert Mugabe, but that does not mean Britain should give a blanket amnesty to Zimbabwean exiles.

"The people that we send back to Zimbabwe are people whose claims have been investigated and found to be wrong. In other words, they've been found to be, often by a court incidentally, not proper asylum claimants," said Mr. Blair.

The issue has resurfaced in the past week, as some 40 Zimbabwean asylum-seekers have gone on hunger strikes to protest their possible deportation. Mr. Blair says further leniency would upset his efforts to tighten Britain's asylum policy.

But the prime minister also called on Zimbabwe's neighbors to put more pressure on the Mugabe government, which is accused of driving political opponents from their homes.

"As the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates, it damages the cause of Africa, and that is deeply unfair to the millions of people in Africa, who need and should have our help," Mr. Blair added.

On other issues, Mr. Blair said recent meetings between the U.S. military and Iraqis linked to the insurgents were aimed at convincing the militants to join the political process, and participate in elections planned for December.

"We're not compromising our position with terrorism or any of the rest of it," he noted. "We're simply trying, perfectly sensibly, to pull as many people in to the democratic fold as possible."

Regarding Iran, Mr. Blair is urging the newly elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to stand by commitments of the outgoing government, and not restart Iran's nuclear program.

"We expect Iran to honor its obligations, and we have tried to find a way through the impasse over nuclear capability, and we have done it in good faith, working with France and Germany, and with support of the United States, and we will continue to do it, but we need a willing partner on the other side," explained Mr. Blair.

Iran had earlier agreed to hold up nuclear activities until the end of July. Tehran says it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, but needs nuclear power to generate electricity.